What is a Constitution? Principles and Concepts

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Overview

What Is a Constitution?

The vast majority of contemporary constitutions describe the basic principles of the state, the structures and processes of government and the fundamental rights of citizens in a higher law that cannot be unilaterally changed by an ordinary legislative act. This higher law is usually referred to as a constitution.

The content and nature of a particular constitution, as well as how it relates to the rest of the legal and political order, varies considerably between countries, and there is no universal and uncontested definition of a constitution. Nevertheless, any broadly accepted working definition of a constitution would likely include the following characteristics:

A constitution is a set of fundamental legal-political rules that:

  1. are binding on everyone in the state, including ordinary lawmaking institutions;
  2. concern the structure and operation of the institutions of government, political principles and the rights of citizens;
  3. are based on widepread public legitimacy;
  4. are harder to change than ordinary laws (e.g. a two-thirds majority vote or or a referendum is needed);
  5. as a minimum, meet the internationally recognized