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POL 101W (35)
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Unit 5 Notes

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Simon Fraser University
Political Science
POL 101W
Andy Heard

Study Guide THE PURPOSE OF A CONSTITUTION Constitutions are both abstract and untouchable, and have tremendous practical consequences. Every organized society has a constitution, because one is needed to identify and define the powers of those who exercise political authority over others. A constitution is the collection of the laws, principles, and practices that together provide the rules for who governs and how. The constitution provides 5 functions: 1. To define the structure of major institutions of government 2. To divide powers and responsibilities among the various institutions of government. 3. To regulate relations between the citizens and the state. 4. To serve as a political symbol 5. To specify a method for amending the constitution. Constitutions can be both “written” and “unwritten”. Constitutions can be both “flexible” and “rigid”. • A flexible constitution is one that can change and evolve through normal legislative processes. • A rigid constitution is one that requires a special process in order to be changed. Every political system relies on informal rules called “constitutional conventions.” This is because no formal constitution can provide all the details as to all the powers of government and circumstances in which they may be used. Constitutionalism is a foundation for all modern democracies because it provides that all government actors must act according to the powers that the constitution gives them. This is tied into Limited government and rule of law. Limited government is the principle that there should be limits upon powers which a government should exercise of its citizens. They are meant to protect the basic rights of citizens. These limits can be placed in: • Law o Courts have to define and enforce the limits of government power. • Informal limits o They are left to the self-restraint of the rulers and, in democracies, to the electorate’s judgment. • Rights of citizens The Rule of Law is: • The laws governing a society must emanate from a known body according to set procedures • The law applies to everyone, including government officials. • It must be enforced by proper courts. • It must be possible for an individual to discover what the law is. THE RIGHTS OF CITIZENS One part of the constitution is to outline the relationship between citizens and the different parts of the government, to define the limits of government to respect the rights’ of citizens. These limits can operate both informally and formally through law. Virtually all political cultures include values about the legitimate use of power of government. Many limits on government power occur
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