The Expressive Function of Constitutional Amendment Rules

Article excerpt

The current scholarly focus on informal constitutional amendment has obscured the continuing relevance of formal amendment rules. In this article, I return our attention to formal amendment in order to show that formal amendment rules--not formal amendments but formal amendment rules themselves--perform an under-appreciated function: to express constitutional values. Drawing from national constitutions, in particular the Canadian, South African, German, and United States constitutions, I illustrate how constitutional designers may deploy formal amendment rules to create a formal constitutional hierarchy that reflects special political commitments. That formal amendment rules may express constitutional values is both a clarifying and a complicating contribution to their study. This thesis clarifies the study of formal amendment rules by showing that such rules may serve a function that scholars have yet to attribute to them; yet it complicates this study by indicating that the constitutional text alone cannot prove whether the constitutional values expressed in formal amendment rules represent authentic or inauthentic political commitments.

L'accent academique actuel sur l'amendement informel d'une constitution a obscurci la pertinence continue de la procedure formelle d'amendement. Dans cet article, je rapporte notre attention sur l'amendement formel pour montrer que la procedure formelle (non pas la modification, mais la procedure elle-meme) remplit un role sousevalue : l'expression des valeurs constitutionnelles. En m'appuyant sur des constitutions nationales, en particulier celles du Canada, de l'Afrique du Sud, de l'Allemagne et des Etats-Unis, je demontre que les auteurs inserent parfois des regles formelles d'amendement pour creer une formelle hierarchie qui reflete des engagements particuliers de nature politique. L'expression possible des valeurs constitutionnelles faite par des regles formelles d'amendement est une contribution qui clarifie et complique leur etude. Cette conclusion clarifie l'etude des regles formelles d'amendement en montrant que de telles regles peuvent servir a une fonction que les erudits n'y ont pas encore attribue. Cependant, elle complique cette etude en indiquant que le texte constitutionnel seul est incapable de prouver si les valeurs constitutionnelles exprimees dans les regles formelles d'amendement representent des engagements de nature politique, qu'ils soient authentiques ou inauthentiques.


I.   The Functions of Constitutional Amendment Rules
     A. Why Entrench Formal Amendment Rules?
     B. Values in the Constitutional Text
II.  Constitutional Values and Formal Amendment Rules
     A. Creating a Constitutional Hierarchy
     B. Constitutional Values and Constitutional Hierarchy
     C. Constitutional Hierarchy in Formal Amendment Rules
III. The Authenticity of Formal Entrenchment
     A. Purpose and Perception
     B. Designing Constitutional Values
     C. Interpreting Constitutional Values


Formal constitutional amendment rules are largely corrective. Recognizing that a deficient constitution risks building error upon error until the only effective repair becomes revolution, (1) constitutional designers entrench formal amendment rules that can be used to peacefully correct the constitution's design. (2) Fixing defects is therefore an essential function of formal amendment rules. Political actors generally deploy formal amendment rules to "amend" a constitution--from the Latin verb "emendare"--in order to "free [it] from fault" or to "put [it] right." (3) Yet formal amendment rules do more than entrench a procedure for perfecting apparent imperfections in the written constitution: they may also serve the underappreciated function of expressing constitutional values.

Much of the current scholarship on constitutional amendment explores informal amendment. (4) This focus, while important, has obscured the continuing relevance of formal amendment rules. …