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Lecture

Constitutions


Department
Political Science
Course Code
POL101Y1
Professor
Jeffrey Kopstein

Page:
of 3
October 4 – Constitutions
Great Britain
Does not have a written constitution yet it is a democracy
Unwritten constitution; history of continuity
1. Significant acts of parliament and documents
2. Custom
i.e. An election is held every five years (it is not written in any constitution yet it is a recurring
pattern)
3. Important interpretations of law
Importance of common-law, judicial precedent and interpretation
oThe common-law is a system of interpretations that evolves throughout time
Institutions are the product of “evolution”
United States
Written document
Enumerated rights
Rules of the game are clearly articulated
These documents are a clear representation of human design
Institutions are product of human design rather than evolution
Design of Government
Executive. US: president and cabinet; GB: prime minister and cabinet, responsible government
Legislative. US Congress: House of Representatives and Senate; GB: House of Commons and
House of Lords
Principles of Government
Britain: parliamentary, unified, cabinet, doctrine of responsible government (cabinet must enjoy
a majority support of parliament, as opposed to support of head of state, vote of no confidence)
US: presidential, separation of powers, federal, cabinet is appointed by president (head of state),
only must be confirmed by senate but does not require continuous majority confidence (does not
entail re-election upon the failure of passing a bill)
www.notesolution.com
Britain: head of state and head of government are in different offices
US: head of state is also head of government (cabinet)
Britain: parliamentary supremacy
US: equality of branches (judicial review)
Implications: Flow of Legislation
US: Bills can be introduced by members of congress; budgets submitted by President.
Complicated, Gridlock, Horsetrading. Multiple veto-points. Legislation fails? Government stays
oPolitical institutions are designed in a way to make it very difficult to pass bills
Britain and Canada:democratic dictatorship few and weak veto points. If (almost) any bills fails
to pass: that is a vote of no-confidence and government falls
oCreates party discipline otherwise bills fail government falls
Implications: Parties
Presidential System produces competition for presidency. Spoils are attached to office of
president. Produces (usually) weak” parties. (What does it mean to be a Democrat?”)
Parliamentary system produces strong” parties, party discipline, parties compete for majorities in
legislature
Implications: Which is Better? Contra British
Democratic Dictatorship. Little Accountability. No “checks and balances
No written constitution. Based too much on custom. What are the guarantees against abuse by
government?
oHow are we to guarantee that rights are protected?
Defense of Parliamentary System: Burkean Reflections
Burke argued against French Revolution and the notion of rights of man”
Why? Revolutionaries were believers in the enlightenment, the power of human REASON to
solve all problems. Revolutionaries think they can improve on nature” by designing” institutions
and rights. But this is arrogance and ignores the wisdom that has been built up over the ages
(the common law)
Constitutions as gardens: English gardens vs. French gardens
oPlant wildness vs. human rational design
All our rights exist not because they are written down but because they are embedded in our
cultures*
www.notesolution.com
Burke feared that by fiddling with rights and making them up out of nothing, we will devalue the
rights that have come from tradition
Rights
Canada has made the jump from a British style constitution to an American one, with an
enumerated list of rights (Charter)
But what actually protects our rights? Is it courts and court decisions? Do institutions really
protect our rights? How many divisions of soldiers does the supreme court have?
oOur rights are protected by our culture
On the other hand...
But, while the initial case of rights being protected by courts may change policies and create new
rights, that has dangers too
Encourages judicial rather than political strategies. And lulls us into a sense of security.
Think of Roe v. Wade and dependence of the supreme court for right to choose. Fourth
Amendment protection, inferred right to privacy from prohibition against search and seizure”.
But who appoints the judges?
Which system is better?
Head of State vs. Head of Government
Britain has the Queen as Head of State and Prime Minister as Head of Government. In the US it is
one in the same
Importance of separating two functions. One is that of symbolic integration and sometimes we
need that
oBecause the Governor General is not a politician, they can choose to assume the role of
symbolic integration since they are free from criticism for political goals
oOn the other hand, the catch 22 of American government creates an unwinnable situation
(i.e. natural catastrophe)
Electoral and Party Systems
Duverger’s Law: single member district produces two party system
oElectoral rules are determinants of how many parties we have; you vote for the party that
you dislike the most to ensure that the one you hate does not win (so you dont waste”
your vote)
Proportional Representation produces multi-party system
www.notesolution.com