Global influence of U.S. Constitution on the decline, study reveals

Feb 22, 2012 By Jessica Martin

The U.S. Constitution's global influence is on the decline, finds a new study by David S. Law, JD, PhD, professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Other countries are increasingly turning to sources other than the U.S. Constitution for guidance in establishing provisions and for general structural provisions in creating their constitutions,” he says.

, with co-author Mila Versteeg, DPhil, associate professor of law at the University of Virginia, analyzed 60 years of data on the content of the world’s constitutions.

“The data revealed that there is a significant and growing generic component to global constitutionalism, in the form of a set of rights provisions that appear in nearly all formal constitutions,” Law says.

“Our analysis also confirms, however, that the U.S. Constitution is becoming increasingly out of sync with these global practices.”

Their research, which examined 729 constitutions adopted by 188 different countries from 1946-2006, also found little emulation of the constitutions of Germany, South Africa, and India.

Similarly, no particular treaty or international human rights instrument stands out as an overall model. However, they did note links between constitution-making in other countries and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, although the tie-in was not uniform.

Law and Versteeg found that the constitutions of non-democratic countries tend to exhibit relatively greater similarity to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, while those of common law countries exhibit the opposite tendency.

“It is difficult to infer from these patterns, however, that countries have actually emulated international or regional human rights instruments when writing their constitutions,” Law says.

Law notes that the article does not stake a position about whether it is a good or a bad thing that other countries do or do not use the U.S.

Constitution as a model, or whether the United States itself is in fact losing some form of international influence.

“Some people have questioned whether we had an ideological agenda in writing this article, but our reasons for writing it were straightforward and not at all sinister,” Law says.

“We had a previous study that identified trends in the global evolution of constitutionalism, and a logical next question to ask was whether the U.S. Constitution was at the forefront of that evolution,” he says.

“We also thought that people would be interested in the answer to this question, and we hoped to demonstrate that empirical scholarship in the area of constitutional law, which remains extremely rare, can be of interest to a wider audience.”

Law says newer constitutions are part of a “polycentric evolutionary process” that does not favor modeling based on a “specimen that is frozen in time.”

“If the United States were to revise the Bill of Rights today — with the benefit of over two centuries of experience, and, in a manner that addresses contemporary challenges while remaining faithful to the nation’s best traditions — there is no guarantee that other countries would follow its lead.

“But the world would surely pay close attention,” Law says.

Law and Versteeg’s article, “The Declining Influence of the Constitution,” will appear in the New York University Law Review.

The authors’ forthcoming research will look at which are guilty of having sham constitutions.

“We couldn’t agree more with the quotation from Justice (Antonin) Scalia in The New York Times article that some constitutions are not worth the paper they are written on,” Law says. 

“This is a question we have been thinking about for some time,” he says, “and we think we now have something original and empirical to say about it — beyond merely repeating the obvious point that some constitutions are sham constitutions.”

Explore further: Facial selection technique for ads can increase buyers by 15 percent

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Bodies for sale

Dec 22, 2010

For some people, intellectual property is about faster computers and better apps. But for Kara Swanson, a new professor at the Northeastern University School of Law, it’s about body products — literally.

Recommended for you

Sharing = Stealing: Busting a copyright myth

Apr 11, 2014

Consumers copy and share digital files. This has been blamed for a potentially catastrophic decline in certain markets. But why do consumers copy? And is it as economically harmful as often thought?

How widespread is tax evasion?

Apr 10, 2014

Tax evasion is widely assumed to be an eternal problem for governments—but how widespread is it? For the first time, a new study, co-authored by an MIT professor, has put a cost on a particular kind of tax evasion, known ...

China looks to science and technology to fuel its economy

Apr 10, 2014

Maintaining stability in the face of rapid change and growth, and proactively partaking in cooperative global ties in science and technology fields will be key in helping China become an innovation-based economy, according ...

User comments : 11

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

4.4 / 5 (11) Feb 22, 2012
Maybe because they see we don't actually uphold our constitution ... so why bother using it as a reference. So sad.
4.1 / 5 (7) Feb 22, 2012
You're right "OldBlackCrow" Some recent past president has raped the constitution to oblivious standards. Regretfully to say, it has lost it's reputation.
1.5 / 5 (11) Feb 22, 2012
And world economies are collapsing.

And doesn't help when a Constitutional officer, Ginsberg, trashes the US Constitution.
3.3 / 5 (9) Feb 22, 2012
And world economies are collapsing.
Actually world economic growth was 7%. It's USA and the G5 collapsing under the final stages of the FED (Bank of England) factional reserve ponzi scheme and the replacement of a tolerant republic with an intolerant neo-nazi fascist fearmongering martial-law governance. On a bright note, corporate privatized prison stock should soar.
4 / 5 (6) Feb 22, 2012
Too bad we can't apply the evolutionary concepts of selection and inheritance to governance, perhaps one day in the distant future we'd have a system that wasn't complete shit.
3.9 / 5 (8) Feb 22, 2012
When a Libertarian opens it's mouth... Lies come out...

"And world economies are collapsing." - Ryggtard's Libertarian lie

"WORLD GDP over the past 12 months was about $65 trillion. In the year to September 2013, global output will be about $10 trillion bigger, according to the IMFs projections." - The Economist


3.8 / 5 (11) Feb 22, 2012
The U.S. constitution was "just a goddamned piece of paper" according to former Republican President George war criminal Bush.

I dont give a goddamn, Bush retorted. Im the President and the Commander-in-Chief. Do it my way.

Mr. President, one aide in the meeting said. There is a valid case that the provisions in this law undermine the Constitution.

Stop throwing the Constitution in my face, Bush screamed back. Its just a goddamned piece of paper!

Ive talked to three people present for the meeting that day and they all confirm that the President of the United States called the Constitution a goddamned piece of paper. Thompson Capitol Hill Blue
1.7 / 5 (12) Feb 22, 2012
Veneral Dicktard:

You're the liar, but hey, what else is new?


"We judge that the odds that the report is accurate hover near zero. It comes from Capitol Hill Blue, a Web site that has a history of relying on phony sources..."

"Update, Feb. 21, 2011: The author of the Capitol Hill Blue story has now withdrawn it. Doug Thompson messaged us to say: ...'I no longer stand behind that article or its conclusions...'"

Fake but accurate. Typical leftling.
1.4 / 5 (10) Feb 23, 2012
And world economies are collapsing.
Actually world economic growth was 7%. It's USA and the G5 collapsing under the final stages of the FED (Bank of England) factional reserve ponzi scheme and the replacement of a tolerant republic with an intolerant neo-nazi fascist fearmongering martial-law governance. On a bright note, corporate privatized prison stock should soar.

Hi. I have to agree with what Kochevnik says, and I quote: "and the replacement of a tolerant republic with an intolerant neo-nazi fascist fearmongering martial-law governance". It's true that since Barak Obama has been President, his governance is leading to more and more fascistic fearmongering policies that is making American citizens feel that their basic rights are slowly being downgraded and maybe someday, under Obama, all rights under the Constitution will be canceled and only those who will be privileged will have their rights given back to them by government. He is motivated by socialists.
1.5 / 5 (10) Feb 23, 2012
How can you deny that the world economies are collapsing when the details are on the news almost every night. Is your head buried in the sand? What could be the cause for someone who lives in north America to pretend that these things are not happening here & in other countries. Kochevnik sees what is happening & names the problems - 1) fascist = heading towards a dictatorship by a socialist/communist in the White House named Obama, if reelected.
2) fearmongering = constant reminder that we are not safe even in our own country, along with the groping of body parts at airports and TSA personnel able to see what you have under your clothes;
& 3) martial-law governance = higher gas prices due to Obama's bending over to satisfy the wants of the insane greenies who don't give a damn if your grands freeze to death from not being able to afford home heating oil & drones placed to observe innocent peoples' activities. USSR is coming to America.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 26, 2012
We Canadians are at least doing something right. Now if we can just let go of the queen of England as our Head of State and remove all references in the Criminal Code related to treason against the queen of England - a foreign country - we'll have finished the job. Pierre Trudeau got that ball rolling.

I mean, inheriting the title of head of state of a foreign nation is ridiculous in these modern times. Especially when it concerns a lineage whose history represents 400 years of non-rule and 200 years of living on the dole. There's nothing special about those people. I have already pretty much reconciled myself to the idea that they are mere nobles, and not true royals like some of the European Royal families which they never actually married into. Hey, I'm a republican at heart.

More news stories

Online reviews: When do negative opinions boost sales?

When purchasing items online, reading customer reviews is a convenient way to get a real-world account of other people's opinions of the product. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, negative review ...

ESO image: A study in scarlet

This new image from ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile reveals a cloud of hydrogen called Gum 41. In the middle of this little-known nebula, brilliant hot young stars are giving off energetic radiation that ...

First direct observations of excitons in motion achieved

A quasiparticle called an exciton—responsible for the transfer of energy within devices such as solar cells, LEDs, and semiconductor circuits—has been understood theoretically for decades. But exciton movement within ...

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

( —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Warm US West, cold East: A 4,000-year pattern

Last winter's curvy jet stream pattern brought mild temperatures to western North America and harsh cold to the East. A University of Utah-led study shows that pattern became more pronounced 4,000 years ago, ...