Discretionary Referenda in Constitutional Amendment

21 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2017

See all articles by Richard Albert

Richard Albert

University of Texas at Austin - School of Law; University of Toronto - Faculty of Law; University of Ottawa - Faculty of Law; Universidad Externado de Colombia - Facultad de Derecho; Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliyah - Radzyner School of Law; Universidad de Especialidades Espíritu Santo; Airlangga University

Date Written: August 24, 2017


The unexpected results of recent referenda around the world have concealed an important similarity among many of them: the referenda were not constitutionally obligatory. For example, the Constitution of the United Kingdom does not require a referendum to authorize Brexit nor does the Colombian Constitution require one to ratify the FARC peace pact. Yet in both cases constitutional actors felt compelled by political imperatives to forego the settled rules of constitutional change in order to bring their constitutional change proposals directly to the people. This is not a rare practice: historically and recently, constitutional actors have often had recourse to referenda by choice rather than constitutional obligation as part of a larger strategy to legitimate a major constitutional change. In this paper, I draw from these kinds of non-obligatory referenda held around the world to develop a typology of discretionary referenda in constitutional amendment. I also examine why constitutional actors use discretionary referenda to amend the constitution and I situate their use against the backdrop of an increasingly observable phenomenon in democracies: the circumvention of formal amendment rules. This occurs when constitutional actors deliberately bypass the formal rules of constitutional change to amend the constitution, with recourse not only to referenda but to other modalities of constitutional change.

Keywords: Constitutional Amendment, Constitutional Referendums, Constitutional Change, Comparative Constitutional Amendment, Comparative Constitutional Law, Referendums, Canadian Constitution, French Constitution, Colombian Constitution, Peace Pact, Brexit, UK Constitution

Suggested Citation

Albert, Richard, Discretionary Referenda in Constitutional Amendment (August 24, 2017). Boston College Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 460, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3025772

Richard Albert (Contact Author)

University of Texas at Austin - School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States
512.213.1113 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://law.utexas.edu/faculty/richard-albert

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

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Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.utoronto.ca

University of Ottawa - Faculty of Law ( email )

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Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6N5

HOME PAGE: http://https://commonlaw.uottawa.ca

Universidad Externado de Colombia - Facultad de Derecho

Calle 12 # 1-17 este
Calle 12 0 83
Bogota D.C, Cundinamarca 3456

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.uexternado.edu.co/derecho/

Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliyah - Radzyner School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 167
Herzliya, 46150

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.idc.ac.il/en/schools/law/pages/home.aspx

Universidad de Especialidades Espíritu Santo ( email )

Facultad de Derecho
Av. Samborondón 5
Samborondón, 092301

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.uees.edu.ec/postgrado/derecho-constitucional-2

Airlangga University

Dharmawangsa Dalam Selatan
Surabaya, East Java 60286

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.unair.ac.id

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