Constitutional Evolution: Amendment Versus Replacement in Comparative Perspective
56 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2015
Date Written: December 29, 2014
We explore why some national constitutions adapt to domestic and foreign challenges through incremental amendments, while others are abandoned and replaced wholesale. Existing studies point to the importance of constitutional scope, or the range of enumerated issues. We go further by disaggregating constitutions by their specificity on human rights versus political institutions. Using historical and cross-national data, we demonstrate that the specificity of rights reduces the probability of replacement, while the specificity of institutions increases the frequency of amendments. Constitutions that proscribe the government from violating a larger share of human rights mitigate bottom-up pressure for wholesale constitutional replacement, improving longevity. By contrast, the merits of enumerating institutions vary with country- and history-specific contexts. Institutions can be fixed, adapted, or manipulated without fundamentally altering state-society relations, thus motivating incremental amendments instead of replacement.
Keywords: constitutional design, amendments, human rights, political institutions
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