US Constitution - US Constitution Role and Types of...

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US Constitution Role and Types of Constitutions This lecture examines the role of the US & Texas Constitutions in our political system. Constitutions are legal documents which ostensibly specify the procedures for making political decisions and define the rights of their citizens. I use the word ostensibly because in non-democratic states the Constitutions may exercise little or no real impact on the actual practices of that state but merely serve for external propaganda purposes. Article 35 of the Constitution for the People's Republic of China declares that the Chinese People are guaranteed freedom of speech and assembly. (Unfortunately, protestors in Tiananmen Square in 1989 found out differently). In democratic states, however, Constitutions do (or at least potentially can) have real legal impact in circumscribing political procedures for policy-making and protecting citizen rights. Some democracies such as the United Kingdom do not have a written constitution but rely instead on a collection of documents (such as the Magna Charta) and previous precedents (collectively called the "common law" ) in defining political procedures and citizen rights. Among democratic states with written constitutions there are essentially two variants: (1) Case-Law Constitutions which state basic legal principles, procedures, and rights but do not go into great detail on what these mean or how they are to be exercised (2) Napoleonic Constitutions (named after the French Napoleonic Codes) which specify procedures, rights, and sometimes even policies in great detail. The US Constitution is an example of a case-law Constitution while the Texas Constitution is an example of a Napoleonic Constitution. Contrast the length of these two documents and you will see one difference between the two types of Constitutions. The US Constitution is approx. 7,000 words long and, over the course of 214 years of its existence, it has only been amended 27 times. The Texas Constitution, on the other hand, is more than 81,000 words long and in 125 years it has been amended 432 times. There are pros and cons to both approaches. The advantage of a Napoleonic Constitution is that it leaves less to interpretation because it spells everything out in detail. Consequently controversial debates over the interpretation of the Texas Constitution are much rarer than the debates over the meaning of the US Constitution. The flipside is that Napoleonic Constitutions become easily antiquated and rigid; they can not adjust to accommodate new times and situations not anticipated at the time of the writing. On the other hand, Case-Law Constitutions such as the US Constitution have the advantage of flexibility. American government textbooks often refer to the US Constitution as a "living constitution" by which they mean that the US Constitution has evolved to fit new eras and contexts. The US Constitution is, in fact, the oldest extant Constitution in the world. . However, the very brevity of the US constitution requires more interpretation to fill
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This note was uploaded on 04/13/2008 for the course POL 1013 taught by Professor Dr.j.philiprogers during the Spring '05 term at The University of Texas at San Antonio- San Antonio.

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US Constitution - US Constitution Role and Types of...

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