Coase-Sandor Working Paper Series in Law and Economics

Do Constitutional Rights Make a Difference?

Adam S. Chilton
Mila Versteeg


Although the question of whether constitutional rights matter is of great theoretical and practical importance, we know little about whether any constitutional rights actually improve rights in practice. We test the effectiveness of six political rights. We hypothesize that “organizational” rights increase de facto rights protection, because they create organizations with the incentives and means to protect the underlying right. By contrast, individual rights are unlikely to make a difference. To test our theory, we use a recently developed identification strategy that mitigates selection bias by incorporating previously unobserved information on countries’ preferences for constitutional rights into the research design. Specifically, we use data on constitutional rights adoption since 1946 to calculate countries’ yearly constitutional ideal point, and then match on the probability that a country will protect a specific right in its constitution. Our results suggest that only organizational rights are associated with increased de facto rights protection.