Do Constitutional Rights Make a Difference?

86 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2014 Last revised: 27 Nov 2015

See all articles by Adam Chilton

Adam Chilton

University of Chicago - Law School

Mila Versteeg

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: September 22, 2015


Although the question of whether constitutional rights matter is of great theoretical and practical importance, little is known about whether constitutional rights impact government behavior. In this paper, we test the effectiveness of six political rights. We hypothesize that there exists a difference between organizational rights – most notably, the rights to unionize and form political parties – and individual rights. Specifically, we suggest that organizational rights increase de facto rights protection, because they create organizations with the incentives and means to protect the underlying right, which renders these rights self-enforcing. Such organizations are not necessarily present to protect individual rights, which could make individual rights less effective. We test our theory using a variety of statistical methods on a dataset of constitutional rights for 186 countries. The results support our theory: organizational rights are associated with increased de facto rights protection.

Keywords: Constitutional Rights, Human Rights, Causal Inference

JEL Classification: K00, K3, C1

Suggested Citation

Chilton, Adam and Versteeg, Mila, Do Constitutional Rights Make a Difference? (September 22, 2015). University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Research Paper No. 694, Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2014-43, Available at SSRN: or

Adam Chilton (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States


Mila Versteeg

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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