Constitutions Un-Entrenched: Toward an Alternative Theory of Constitutional Design
American Political Science Review (Forthcoming)
34 Pages Posted: 16 May 2016 Last revised: 29 Aug 2016
Date Written: August 28, 2016
This Article highlights a gap between a great deal of constitutional theory and a great deal of the practice of democratic constitution-making. Drawing on data from democratic national and state constitutions, we challenge the consensus among constitutional theorists that a central purpose of constitutionalism is the entrenchment (the fortification against future change) of broad principles. The empirical reality is that the majority of democratic constitutions today are subject to frequent revision, and are therefore ill-equipped to facilitate the entrenchment of their contents. To explore the logic of these un-entrenched documents, we identify the historical periods in which different geographic regions moved away from highly entrenched constitutions, and we examine the political contexts of these transformations. We find that, in each context, constitution-makers were attempting to limit the discretion of constitutional interpreters and implementers by drafting highly specific texts and by updating them in response to continually changing circumstances.
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