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Malleable Constitutions: Reflections on State Constitutional Reform


  • Bruce Cain

    (UC Berkeley)

  • Roger Noll

    () (Stanford University)


While the U.S. Constitution is difficult to amend, most states constitutions are much easier to amend. This essay explores the implications of easily amended constitutions on the nature and quality of government. Theoretically, malleable constitutions can be more innovative and responsive to changes in society; however, they also are more likely to become another venue in which interest-group policy conflicts are played out and less likely to reflect serious deliberation among both government officials and voters. Highly stable constitutions can provide more durable protection of individual rights and other benefits based on the stability of government institutions. Our review of the experiences of state governance under malleable constitutions concludes that states can capture the benefits of both stability and malleability, and thereby improve their quality of constitutional governance, by establishing a brighter line between easy to accomplish amendments and more difficult to accomplish constitutional revisions and replacements. In particular, we recommend that constitutional provisions that establish individual political and human rights should be changed only through the revision process, while provisions about the details of governance institutions should be subject to change by an easier amendment process.

Suggested Citation

  • Bruce Cain & Roger Noll, 2009. "Malleable Constitutions: Reflections on State Constitutional Reform," Discussion Papers 08-022, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:sip:dpaper:08-022

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Greif, Avner, 1989. "Reputation and Coalitions in Medieval Trade: Evidence on the Maghribi Traders," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 49(04), pages 857-882, December.
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    3. Greif, Avner, 1994. "Cultural Beliefs and the Organization of Society: A Historical and Theoretical Reflection on Collectivist and Individualist Societies," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(5), pages 912-950, October.
    4. Clay, Karen, 1997. "Trade without Law: Private-Order Institutions in Mexican California," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 13(1), pages 202-231, April.
    5. Reyerson, Kathryn, 2006. "Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy: Lessons from Medieval Trade. By Avner Greif. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. xix, 503. $34.99, paper," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 66(04), pages 1080-1081, December.
    6. Greif, Avner, 1993. "Contract Enforceability and Economic Institutions in Early Trade: the Maghribi Traders' Coalition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(3), pages 525-548, June.
    7. Greif, Avner, 1996. "The Study of Organizations and Evolving Organizational Forms through History: Reflections from the Late Medieval Family Firm," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 5(2), pages 473-501.
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    More about this item


    Constitutional Reform; Government Stability; Human Rights;

    JEL classification:

    • K10 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - General (Constitutional Law)


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