Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, February 13, 2012

Things change, but not the US Constitution (very often)

The U.S. Constitution gets less respect, globally, now than in the past. If the U.S. model is no longer as popular as it once was, what are the models countries are following as the write new basic laws or modify the old ones (on average, once every 19 years)?

[Thanks to former student Kyle Potter for pointing this article out to me.]

‘We the People’ Loses Appeal With People Around the World
The Constitution has seen better days.

Sure, it is the nation’s founding document and sacred text. And it is the oldest written national constitution still in force anywhere in the world. But its influence is waning.

In 1987, on the Constitution’s bicentennial, Time magazine calculated that “of the 170 countries that exist today, more than 160 have written charters modeled directly or indirectly on the U.S. version.”

A quarter-century later, the picture looks very different. “The U.S. Constitution appears to be losing its appeal as a model for constitutional drafters elsewhere,” according to a new study by David S. Law of Washington University in St. Louis and Mila Versteeg of the University of Virginia…

“Among the world’s democracies,” Professors Law and Versteeg concluded, “constitutional similarity to the United States has clearly gone into free fall…

“The turn of the twenty-first century… saw the beginning of a steep plunge that continues through the most recent years for which we have data, to the point that the constitutions of the world’s democracies are, on average, less similar to the U.S. Constitution now than they were at the end of World War II.”

There are lots of possible reasons. The United States Constitution is terse and old, and it guarantees relatively few rights. The commitment of some members of the Supreme Court to interpreting the Constitution according to its original meaning in the 18th century may send the signal that it is of little current use to, say, a new African nation…

The rights guaranteed by the American Constitution are parsimonious by international standards, and they are frozen in amber. As Sanford Levinson wrote in 2006 in “Our Undemocratic Constitution,” “the U.S. Constitution is the most difficult to amend of any constitution currently existing in the world today.”…

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