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The Changing Constitution

The Changing Constitution (9th edn)

Sir Jeffrey Jowell and Colm O'Cinneide
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date: 29 February 2024

p. 42115. The Democratic Case for a Written Constitutionlocked

p. 42115. The Democratic Case for a Written Constitutionlocked

  • Jeff King

Abstract

Written constitutions have often been viewed as the bridle for unchecked political majoritarianism, as a restraint on government, and hence as a limiting device rather than a form of democratic political expression. Breaking with that tradition, this article sets out a democratic case for a written constitution and contrasts it with the rights-based and clarity-based cases. It then proceeds to show why the case against written constitutions—which are broadly located in a conservative critique, an anti-rationalist critique and an anti-judicialization critique—are misguided. Nevertheless, a democratic case for a written constitution necessarily raises challenging questions about how the constitution will be enacted, and how rigidly entrenched it should be. Answers to these questions are presented in Parts III and IV of the article. In the former, it is argued for a constituent assembly consisting of party and direct citizen representation. In the latter, defence of a model of entrenchment is discussed that permits amendment through a simple majoritarian parliamentary procedure in conjunction with a referendum, and, most controversially, a provision requiring a new constitutional convention about once in a generation. This is the type of democratic constitution, in the author’s view, that accommodates the need for a liberal egalitarian constitutional order that takes both rights and democracy seriously.

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