Academic journal article Review of Constitutional Studies

Legislatures as Hostage of Obstructionism: Political Constitutionalism and the Due Process of Lawmaking

Academic journal article Review of Constitutional Studies

Legislatures as Hostage of Obstructionism: Political Constitutionalism and the Due Process of Lawmaking

Article excerpt

The normative accounts of political constitutionalism maintain that legislatures are to be preferred to courts for the enforcement of the Constitution and claim that disagreement is at the core of democratic decision-making. Although disagreement in legislatures is vital for the fulfillment of their representative function, if such disagreement is able to turn itself into unconstrained obstructionism as a routine practice, then parliamentary institutions may become hostages of their own internal opposition. Indeed, the deadlock created by parliamentary obstructionism affects the decision-making capacity of legislatures vis-a-vis the other branches of government. By relying on a comparative analysis, the article highlights the downside effect of obstructionism on the constitutional role and legitimation of legislatures. It also makes a case for a careful limitation of this practice by protecting the "due process" of lawmaking through a strict enforcement of constitutional provisions and standing orders by legislatures or, should they fail, and as an extrema ratio, by courts.

Les comptes rendus normatifs du constitutionnalisme politique soutiennent que les legislatures doivent etre preferees aux tribunaux pour la mise en application de la Constitution et pretendent que le desaccord est au coeur du processus decisionnel democratique. Bien que le desaccord dans les legislatures soit essentiel pour la realisation de leur fonction representative, si le desaccord arrive a se transformer en obstructionnisme sans contraintes dans la pratique courante, alors les institutions parlementaires pourraient devenir otages de leur propre opposition interne. En effet, l'impasse creee par l'obstructionnisme parlementaire influe sur la capacite dlcisionnelle des legislatures par rapport aux autres branches du gouvernement. L'auteure de l'article s'appuie sur une analyse comparative afin de souligner les effets desavantageux de l'obstructionnisme sur le role constitutionnel et la legitimation des legislatures. Elle etablit aussi le bien-fonde d'une restriction prudente de cette pratique en protegeant la << due process >> du processus legislatif grace a une mise en application stricte des dispositions constitutionelles et reglements des assemblees parlementaires par les legislatures ou, dans le cas ou elles n'y parviennent pas, et en tant qu'extrema ratio, par les cours.

Introduction

One of the main tenets of normative theories of political constitutionalism is that the enforcement of a Constitution should not be viewed solely, or even primarily, as the task of the judiciary. (1) Rather, such enforcement is more legitimate when understood as the result of political decision-making, whereby the deliberative process reconciles disagreements through political debate. (2) Insofar as they follow from the participation of a wide range of political actors, many of them minorities, disagreements are not only inherent to any democratic legal system but also desirable. (3) Conflicts and disagreements are at the core of politics and they stand as a necessary precondition for the legitimation of lawmaking. (4)

Although disagreement in legislatures is vital for the fulfillment of their representative function, if such disagreement is able to turn itself into unconstrained obstructionism as a routine practice to pursue unconstitutional ends, then parliamentary institutions may become the victims of their own internal opposition. The deadlock created by parliamentary obstructionism affects the decision-making capacity of legislatures vis-a-vis other branches of government. The use of obstructionist techniques, like filibustering, without effective limitations, derogates from majority rule. These derogations are usually tolerated in the name of minority protection and the constitutional autonomy legislatures enjoy to set and apply their own internal rules.

Of course, distinctions should be made depending on the specific features of a political system, in particular based on the structure of the government and the dynamics of political parties and parliamentary groups. …

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