Federalism, Subnational Constitutions, and Minority Rights

By G. Alan Tarr; Robert F. Williams et al. | Go to book overview

1
Subnational
Constitutional Space:
A View from the States,
Provinces, Regions,
Länder, and Cantons

Robert F. Williams and G. Alan Tarr

Every federal system is structured by a national constitution that divides power, establishes central institutions, prescribes the rules for resolving disputes, and provides a procedure for its own alteration.1 In some federal systems, the national constitution prescribes the political institutions and processes for the country’s subnational units as well, thus providing the complete constitutional architecture for the federal system.2 Former unitary countries that have decentralized into federal systems—that is, countries that exemplify devolutionary rather than integrative federalism—are particularly likely to include subnational constitutional arrangements in the national constitution.3 However, in most federal systems the national constitution is incomplete as a governing constitutional document, in the sense that it does not seek to prescribe all constitutional arrangements. Rather, it leaves space in the federal nation’s constitutional architecture to be filled by the constitutions of its subnational units.4 This is not surprising, for as Cheryl Saunders has noted, “The characterization of subnational units as political communities suggests that they must have constitutions of some kind as well, although it does not necessarily prescribe what form they should take.”5

Even federal systems that recognize a place for subnational constitutions differ substantially in the extent to which the national constitution

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Federalism, Subnational Constitutions, and Minority Rights
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