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Washington Constitutional Convention 1787

A painting depicting George Washington at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 signing of the U.S. Constitution.

OverviewEdit

A constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed. These rules together make up, i.e. constitute, what the entity is. When these principles are written down into a single document or set of legal documents, those documents may be said to embody a written constitution; if they are written down in a single comprehensive document, it is said to embody a codified constitution. Some constitutions (such as the constitution of the United Kingdom) are uncodified, but written in numerous fundamental Acts of a legislature, court cases or treaties.

Constitutions concern different levels of organizations, from sovereign states to companies and unincorporated associations. A treaty which establishes an international organization is also its constitution, in that it would define how that organization is constituted. Within states, a constitution defines the principles upon which the state is based, the procedure in which laws are made and by whom. Some constitutions, especially codified constitutions, also act as limiters of state power, by establishing lines which a state's rulers cannot cross, such as fundamental rights.

Pre-modern onesEdit

Achient timeEdit

Excavations in modern-day Iraq by Ernest de Sarzec in 1877 found evidence of the earliest known code of justice, issued by the Sumerian king Urukagina of Lagash ca 2300 BC. Perhaps the earliest prototype for a law of government, this document itself has not yet been discovered; however it is known that it allowed some rights to his citizens. For example, it is known that it relieved tax for widows and orphans, and protected the poor from the usury of the rich.

Magna CartaEdit

Magna Carta (1297 version with seal, owned by David M Rubenstein)

Copy of the Magna Carta from 1297.

Magna Carta Libertatum (Medieval Latin for "the Great Charter of the Liberties"), commonly called Magna Carta (also Magna Charta; "(the) Great Charter"), is a charter agreed to by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor, on 15 June 1215. First drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury to make peace between the unpopular King and a group of rebel barons, it promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown, to be implemented through a council of 25 barons. Neither side stood behind their commitments, and the charter was annulled by Pope Innocent III, leading to the First Barons' War. After John's death, the regency government of his young son, Henry III, reissued the document in 1216, stripped of some of its more radical content, in an unsuccessful bid to build political support for their cause. At the end of the war in 1217, it formed part of the peace treaty agreed at Lambeth, where the document acquired the name Magna Carta, to distinguish it from the smaller Charter of the Forest which was issued at the same time. Short of funds, Henry reissued the charter again in 1225 in exchange for a grant of new taxes; his son, Edward I, repeated the exercise in 1297, this time confirming it as part of England's statute law.

The charter became part of English political life and was typically renewed by each monarch in turn, although as time went by and the fledgling English Parliament passed new laws, it lost some of its practical significance. At the end of the 16th century there was an upsurge in interest in Magna Carta. Lawyers and historians at the time believed that there was an ancient English constitution, going back to the days of the Anglo-Saxons, that protected individual English freedoms. They argued that the Norman invasion of 1066 had overthrown these rights, and that Magna Carta had been a popular attempt to restore them, making the charter an essential foundation for the contemporary powers of Parliament and legal principles such as habeas corpus. Although this historical account was badly flawed, jurists such as Sir Edward Coke used Magna Carta extensively in the early 17th century, arguing against the divine right of kings propounded by the Stuart monarchs. Both James I and his son Charles I attempted to suppress the discussion of Magna Carta, until the issue was curtailed by the English Civil War of the 1640s and the execution of Charles. The political myth of Magna Carta and its protection of ancient personal liberties persisted after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 until well into the 19th century. It influenced the early American colonists in the Thirteen Colonies and the formation of the American Constitution in 1787, which became the supreme law of the land in the new republic of the United States. Research by Victorian historians showed that the original 1215 charter had concerned the medieval relationship between the monarch and the barons, rather than the rights of ordinary people, but the charter remained a powerful, iconic document, even after almost all of its content was repealed from the statute books in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Magna Carta still forms an important symbol of liberty today, often cited by politicians and campaigners, and is held in great respect by the British and American legal communities, Lord Denning describing it as "the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot". 

In the 21st century, four exemplifications of the original 1215 charter remain in existence, held by the British Library and the cathedrals of Lincoln and Salisbury. There are also a handful of the subsequent charters in public and private ownership, including copies of the 1297 charter in both the United States and Australia. The original charters were written on parchment sheets using quill pens, in heavily abbreviated medieval Latin, which was the convention for legal documents at that time. Each was sealed with the royal great seal (made of beeswax and resin sealing wax): very few of the seals have survived. Although scholars refer to the 63 numbered "clauses" of Magna Carta, this is a modern system of numbering, introduced by Sir William Blackstone in 1759; the original charter formed a single, long unbroken text. The four original 1215 charters were displayed together at the British Library for one day, 3 February 2015, to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

7 ExamplesEdit

IndiaEdit

The Constitution of India is the supreme law of India. It lays down the framework defining fundamental political principles, establishes the structure, procedures, powers and duties of government institutions and sets out fundamental rights, directive principles and the duties of citizens. It is the longest written constitution of any sovereign country in the world. The nation is governed by it. B. R. Ambedkar is regarded as its chief architect.

It imparts constitutional supremacy and not parliamentary supremacy, as it is not created by the Parliament but, by a constituent assembly, and adopted by its people, with a declaration in its preamble. Parliament cannot override the constitution.

It was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 26 November 1949, and came into effect on 26 January 1950. With its adoption, the Union of India became the modern and contemporary Republic of India replacing the Government of India Act, 1935 as the country's fundamental governing document. To ensure constitutional autochthony, the framers of the constitution repealed the prior Acts of the British Parliament via Article 395 of the constitution. India celebrates its coming into force on 26 January each year, as Republic Day.

It declares India a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic, assuring its citizens of justice, equality, and liberty, and endeavours to promote fraternity among them.

The Constitution of India is the longest written constitution of any sovereign country in the world, containing 444 articles in 22 parts, 12 schedules and 118 amendments, with 146,385 words in its English-language version, while the Constitution of Monaco is the shortest written constitution, containing 10 chapters with 97 articles, and a total of 3,814 words.

USAEdit

Washington Constitutional Convention 1787

A painting depicting George Washington at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 signing of the U.S. Constitution.

The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the United States of America. The Constitution, originally comprising seven articles, delineates the national frame of government. Its first three articles entrench the doctrine of the separation of powers, whereby the federal government is divided into three branches: the legislative, consisting of the bicameral Congress; the executive, consisting of the President; and the judicial, consisting of the Supreme Court and other federal courts. Articles Four, Five and Six entrench concepts of federalism, describing the rights and responsibilities of state governments and of the states in relationship to the federal government. Article Seven establishes the procedure subsequently used by the thirteen States to ratify it.

Since the Constitution came into force in 1789, it has been amended twenty-seven times to meet the changing needs of a nation now profoundly different from the eighteenth-century world in which its creators lived. In general, the first ten amendments, known collectively as the Bill of Rights, offer specific protections of individual liberty and justice and place restrictions on the powers of government. The majority of the seventeen later amendments expand individual civil rights protections. Others address issues related to federal authority or modify government processes and procedures. Amendments to the United States Constitution, unlike ones made to many constitutions worldwide, are appended to the document. All four pages of the original U.S. Constitution are written on parchment.

According to the United States Senate: "The Constitution's first three words—We the People—affirm that the government of the United States exists to serve its citizens. For over two centuries the Constitution has remained in force because its framers wisely separated and balanced governmental powers to safeguard the interests of majority rule and minority rights, of liberty and equality, and of the federal and state governments."

The first constitution of its kind, adopted by the people's representatives for an expansive nation, it is interpreted, supplemented, and implemented by a large body of constitutional law, and has influenced the constitutions of other nations.

IrelandEdit

The Constitution of Ireland (Irish: Bunreacht na hÉireann, pronounced [ˈbˠɔnrʲaxt̪ˠ n̪ˠə ˈheːrʲən̪ˠ]) is the fundamental law of the Republic of Ireland. It asserts the national sovereignty of the Irish people. The constitution falls broadly within the tradition of liberal democracy being based on a system of representative democracy. It guarantees certain fundamental rights, along with a popularly elected non-executive president, a bicameral parliament based on the Westminster system, a separation of powers and judicial review.

It is the second constitution of the state since independence, replacing the 1922 Constitution of the Irish Free State. It came into force on 29 December 1937 following a statewide plebiscite held on 1 July 1937. The Constitution may be amended solely by a national referendum. 

VenezuelaEdit

The Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is the current and twenty-sixth constitution of Venezuela!

It was drafted in mid-1999 by a constitutional assembly that had been created by popular referendum. Adopted in December 1999, it replaced the 1961 Constitution, the longest-serving in Venezuelan history. It was primarily promoted by former President of Venezuela Hugo Chávez and thereafter received strong backing from diverse sectors, including figures involved in promulgating the 1961 constitution such as Luis Miquilena and Carlos Andrés Pérez. Chávez and his followers (Chavistas) refer to the 1999 document as the "Constitución Bolivariana" (the "Bolivarian Constitution") because they assert that it is ideologically descended from the thinking and political philosophy of Simón Bolívar and Bolivarianism.

The Constitution of 1999 was the first constitution approved by popular referendum in Venezuelan history, and summarily inaugurated the so-called "Fifth Republic" of Venezuela due to the socioeconomic changes foretold in its pages, as well as the official change in Venezuela's name from the República de Venezuela ("Republic of Venezuela") to the República Bolivariana de Venezuela ("Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela"). Major changes are made to the structure of Venezuela's government and responsibilities, while a much greater number of human rights are enshrined in the document as guaranteed to all Venezuelans – including free education up to tertiary level, free health care, access to a clean environment, right of minorities (especially indigenous peoples) to uphold their own traditional cultures, religions, and languages, among others. The 1999 Constitution, with 350 articles, is among the world's longest, most complicated, and most comprehensive constitutions.

One of the outstanding differences between Venezuelan and most of the other constitutions of the Americas is the no-existence of the proceeding of impeachment of president by the national parliament.

NigeriaEdit

The Constitution of Nigeria is the supreme law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Nigeria has had a series of constitutions. The current constitution was enacted on 29 May 1999, inaugurating the Nigerian Fourth Republic.

Nigeria's first constitutions were enacted by order in council during the colonial era, when the country was administered as a Crown Colony. The constitutions enacted during this period were those of 1913 (which came into effect on 1 January 1914), 1922, 1946, 1951 and 1954.

  • 5 occurred after independence in 1960:
  1. Independence constitution (1960)
  2. 1963 constitution (First Republic)
  3. 1979 constitution (Second Republic)
  4. 1993 constitution (Third Republic)
  5. 1999 constitution (Fourth Republic)

S. AfricaEdit

The Constitution of South Africa is the supreme law of the country of South Africa. It provides the legal foundation for the existence of the republic, sets out the rights and duties of its citizens, and defines the structure of the government. The current constitution, the country's fifth, was drawn up by the Parliament elected in 1994 in the first non-racial elections. It was promulgated by President Nelson Mandela on 18th December 1996 and came into effect on 4 February 1997, replacing the Interim Constitution of 1993. 

Since 1996, the Constitution has been amended by seventeen amendment acts. The Constitution is formally entitled the "Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996." It was previously also numbered as if it were an Act of Parliament—Act No. 108 of 1996—but, since the passage of the Citation of Constitutional Laws Act, neither it nor the acts amending it are allocated act numbers.

  • The others were:
  1. South Africa Act 1909
  2. Constitution Act, 1961
  3. Constitution Act, 1983
  4. Interim Constitution, 1993

===Poland===nstitution of Poland was adopted on 2 April 1997. Formally known as the Constitution of the Republic of Poland (Polish: Konstytucja Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej), it replaced the temporary amendments put into place in 1992 designed to reverse the effects of the communist dictatorship, establishing the nation as "a democratic state ruled by law and implementing the principles of social justice". It was adopted by the National Assembly of Poland on 2 April 1997, approved by a national referendum on 25 May 1997, and came into effect on 17 October 1997.

Poland has had numerous previous constitutional acts during its history. Historically, the most significant is probably the May Constitution adopted on 3 May 1791.

  • The others were:
  1. Second Polish Republic (1919-1939)
  2. People's Republic of Poland (1945-1989)
  3. Third Polish Republic (1989-1997)

Constitutional courtsEdit

A constitutional court is a high court that deals primarily with constitutional law. Its main authority is to rule on whether laws that are challenged are in fact unconstitutional, i.e., whether they conflict with constitutionally established rights and freedoms.

In 1919 the First Austrian Republic established the first dedicated constitutional court, the Constitutional Court of Austria, which however existed in name only until 10 October 1920, when the country's new constitution came into effect, upon which the court gained the power to review the laws of Austria's federal states. The Czechoslovakian Constitution of 1920, which came into effect on 2 February 1920, was the first to provide for a dedicated court for judicial review of parliamentary laws, but the court did not convene until November 1921.

The list in this article is of countries that have a separate constitutional court. Many countries do not have separate constitutional courts, but instead delegate constitutional judicial authority to their general court system, with the final decision-making power resting in the supreme court. Nonetheless, such courts are sometimes also called "constitutional courts". For example, some have called the Supreme Court of the United States "the world's oldest constitutional court" because it was one of the earliest courts in the world to invalidate a law as unconstitutional (Marbury v. Madison), even though it is not a separate constitutional court.

Prior to 1919 only the United States, Canada and Australia had adopted the concept of judicial review by their courts following shared principles of their similar common law legal systems, which they, in turn, had inherited from British legal practice. (The United Kingdom itself does not have a codified constitution to be reviewed by such a court.)

It is illegal to intimidate, kill, sack, disband, shut down or jail a constitutional court, unless on orders of other judges due to a charge of dereliction of duty made against the constitutional court itself or the members there in.

2 examplesEdit

S.AfricaEdit

ConstitutionalCourtofSouthAfrica-20070622

The Constitutional Court of South Africa at Constitution Hill, Braamfontein, Johannesburg in 2007.

The Constitutional Court of South Africa is a supreme constitutional court established by the Constitution of South Africa. It was originally the final appellate court for constitutional matters. Since the enactment of the Superior Courts Act in 2013, the Constitutional Court has jurisdiction to hear any matter if it is in the interests of justice for it to do so.

The court was first established by the Interim Constitution of 1993, and its first session began in February 1995. It has continued in existence under the Constitution of 1996. The court sits in the city of Johannesburg. It also has occupied a purpose-built complex on Constitution Hill. The first court session in the new building at this location was held in February 2004.

The Constitutional Court consists of eleven judges who are appointed by the President of South Africa from a list drawn up by the Judicial Service Commission. The judges serve for a term of twelve years. The court is headed by the Chief Justice of South Africa and the Deputy Chief Justice. The Constitution requires that a matter before the Court be heard by at least eight judges. In practice, all eleven judges hear almost every case. Decisions are reached by a majority and written reasons are given.

PolandEdit

The Constitutional Tribunal (Polish: Trybunał Konstytucyjny) is the constitutional court of the Republic of Poland, a judicial body established to resolve disputes on the constitutionality of the activities of state institutions; its main task is to supervise the compliance of statutory law with the Constitution of the Republic of Poland.

The Constitutional Tribunal adjudicates on the compliance with the Constitution of legislation and international agreements (also their ratification), on disputes over the powers of central constitutional bodies, and on compliance with the Constitution of the aims and activities of political parties. It also rules on constitutional complaints.

The Constitutional Tribunal is made up of 15 judges chosen by Sejm RP for nine-year terms. They are fully independent. The Constitutional Tribunal constitutes one of the formal guarantees of a state grounded on the rule of law.

Three judges, appointed by the President of the Tribunal, serve as members of the National Electoral Commission (Act of 5 January 2011 Electoral Code).

Also seeEdit

  1. A political diorama
  2. Constitutional Party of the USA
  3. Libertarian Party (United States)
  4. Nigerian military juntas of 1966–79 and 1983–98

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