Coase-Sandor Working Paper Series in Law and Economics

Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date

2019

Abstract

Although constitutions lay out the fundamental principles by which countries are governed, identifying exactly which legal materials are considered constitutional is not a straightforward task. This is for two reasons. First, there is no systematic evidence about the relative importance of countries’ formal, written constitutions—the “Large-C” constitution— versus their broader body of constitutional law derived from sources like judicial decisions, treaties, and conventions—the “small-c” constitution. Second, it is often difficult to establish which legal materials are definitively part of a country’s small-c constitution. We investigated the nature and relative importance of small-c constitutional rights protections by fielding a global expert survey to 220 experts from 123 countries. The results illustrate that although the Large-C constitution is the primary source of constitutional rights in a majority of countries, the small-c constitution also plays a significant role, especially in older constitutional systems. Perhaps surprisingly, whether a country has a civil law or a common law tradition is only weakly associated with the shape and form of the small-c constitution in most countries.


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