Political Science Data Set: Comparative Constitutions Project

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The goal of the Comparative Constitutions Project is to collect data on the formal characteristics of written constitutions, both current and historical, for most independent states since 1789. Characteristics include aspects of both form and content of these documents.


The Comparative Constitutions Project has its origins at the University of Illinois, where Elkins and Ginsburg taught until 2008. Staff at the Cline Center for Democracy at the University of Illinois and its director Peter Nardulli, continue to be indispensable partners in the project. Part of the inspiration for the project came from observations about constitutional reform in prominent cases such as Iraq and Afghanistan, which indicated that political scientists and legal scholars are not adequately equipped to advise constitutional assemblies about how to craft documents that solve important problems of governance. External consultants and indigenous constitutional framers alike lack even the most basic information: a systematic catalog of constitutional provisions in other countries, past and present. A common result, one that Mark Tushnet (1999) terms bricolage, is a haphazard and accidental cobbling-together of constitutional elements from other countries. A full menu of institutional options is something that should be on hand at constitutional assemblies, and it is even more important that such systematic data inform the analysis of comparative legal scholars long before they provide advice to constitution-drafters. Data on the characteristics of constitutions, both their form and content, are essential to test hypotheses regarding the origins and consequences of constitutional law. We endeavor to fill this void by producing a cross-national historical dataset of written constitutions, to service a set of research questions regarding the origins and consequences of constitutional law and, not at all incidentally, the design of constitutions in developing and transitioning democracies.