How Unwritten Constitutional Norms Change Written Constitutions
38 Dublin University Law Journal 387 (2015)
34 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2015 Last revised: 15 Sep 2017
Date Written: July 9, 2015
Written constitutions are susceptible to informal changes that do not manifest themselves in alterations to the text, for instance as a result of judicial interpretation, legislative enactment or executive action. This phenomenon is well developed in the scholarly literature on constitutional change and informal constitutional amendment. But what remains understudied and undertheorized in Canada and the United States is how written constitutions change informally as a result of the development of an unwritten constitutional norm, otherwise known as a constitutional convention. In this Article, I hypothesize with reference to the Canadian and United States Constitutions that there exist two major categories of informal constitutional change by constitutional convention: incorporation and repudiation. I suggest also that incorporation and repudiation may each occur in two ways: incorporation may occur by filling an existing void in the constitutional text or by refining one of its existing provisions, and repudiation may result from creating a void in the constitutional text or from substituting one of its existing provisions. I then evaluate whether these four forms informal constitutional change by constitutional convention entail costs to the rule of law where constitutional meaning is rooted in the present public meaning of the constitutional text. My larger purpose in this Article is to invite a dialogue with comparative public law scholars on how unwritten constitutional norms change written constitutions so that we may ultimately better understand the forms and implications of unwritten constitutional change.
Keywords: Constitutional Change, Constitutional Convention, Unwritten Constitutional Norms, Constitutional Amendment, Formal Amendment, Informal Amendment, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitution of Canada, United States Constitution, Ivor Jennings, Rule of Law, Democracy
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation