Is the U.S. Constitution Too Old for its Own Good?

Question: What do the following provisions have in common? Women's rights; Right to work; Right to education; Presumption of innocence; Right to unionize or strike.

Answer: None of them is mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.

Could it be the case that the original legal document of our country is getting a little ... stale?

It's a fair question, if based on a comprehensive new study conducted by David Stephen Law, professor of law and political science at Washington University, along with a colleague at the University of Virginia.

The professors' bottom-line finding: although there once was a time when foreign countries sought to emulate the U.S. Constitution as a model for their own constitutions, that is no longer the case. Now, more than ever, foreign countries are ignoring America's Founding Fathers as they look toward other sources when constructing their bylaws.

The authors analyzed 729 constitutions adopted by 188 countries from 1946 to 2006, considering 237 variables regarding various rights and ways to enforce them. The study will be published in June in the New York University Law Review.

"It has been suggested, with growing frequency, that the United States may be losing its influence over constitutionalism in other countries because it is increasingly out of sync with an evolving global consensus on issues of human rights," write the authors in the paper's abstract. "...In this Article, we show empirically that other countries have, in recent decades, become increasingly unlikely to model either the rights-related provisions or the basic structural provisions of their own constitutions upon those found in the U.S. Constitution."

In other words, the democracies of other nations are now less similar to America's than they were during World War II.

Compare that with 1987, when -- according to Adam Liptak's recent New York Times column that featured the Wash U study -- Time magazine reported that more that 160 of the 170 countries in existence "have written charters modeled directly or indirectly on the U.S. version."

Writes Liptak: "The United States Constitution is terse and old, and it guarantees relatively few rights."

In contrast, other nations rewrite their entire constitutions every nineteen years, on average, according to Liptak -- and, coincidentally, Thomas Jefferson once expressed in a letter to James Madison that every constitution "naturally expires at the end of 19 years."

Liptak also reports that the Supreme Court no longer has the worldwide influence it once did, and that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg once said: "I would not look to the United States Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012." Instead, she suggested looking at the South African Constitution, the Canadian Charter or Rights and Freedoms or the European Convention on Human Rights as models.

One last fun trivia question in today's category of World Constitutions. How many countries protect the right to bear arms?

Answer: Three. (The United States, Guatemala and Mexico).

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