Acta Politica

, Volume 54, Issue 2, pp 196–224 | Cite as

Impeding constitutional amendments: why are entrenchment clauses codified in contemporary constitutions?

  • Michael HeinEmail author
Original Article


Almost all contemporary constitutions are entrenched, in other words, harder to amend than ordinary laws. “Entrenchment clauses” further raise these hurdles. They make amendments to certain parts of a constitution or amendments under certain circumstances either more difficult than “normal” amendments or even impossible. Such provisions are common around the world and in all types of political systems. Nevertheless, they are highly controversial from a normative point of view since they may be seen either as adequate means for protecting human rights, democracy, and the rule of law or as illegitimate restrictions on democratic sovereignty. Against this background, this article examines the factors that influence the codification of entrenchment clauses in contemporary constitutions. The study analyzes 210 national constitutions adopted from 1975 until 2015. It focuses on factors describing historical legacies, the political and social context of constitution-making, and characteristics of the newly established constitutional order. As will be shown, the state of democracy has almost no significant influence on the decision for or against entrenchment clauses. Instead, historical path dependencies and contingent procedural decisions on the constitution-making process predetermine that constitutional choice to a large extent.


Constitution-making Constitutional politics Democracy Entrenchment clauses Human rights Rule of law 



I wish to thank Horst Dreier, Stefan Ewert, Anna Fruhstorfer, Maria Haimerl, Ran Hirschl, Tobias Lenz, Felix Petersen, Theresia Smolka, Toralf Stark, Silvia von Steinsdorff, and Zeynep Yanasmayan for their helpful comments and suggestions, as well as Irina Avdeeva, Lisa Klein, and, in particular, Lisa Klingsporn, for their assistance with data collection. Moreover, I am grateful to Tom Ginsburg and Zachary Elkins for providing me access to the repository of the Comparative Constitutions Project, which has been the main source for the creation of the dataset used in this article.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 692 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (PDF 93 kb)


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political Science, Alexander von Humboldt Chair of Comparative ConstitutionalismUniversity of GöttingenGöttingenGermany

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