Rahel Freiburghaus, Adrian Vatter

Assessing the Effects of Amendment Rules in Federal Systems: Australia and Switzerland Compared

  • Public Administration
  • Sociology and Political Science

Abstract The effects of formal constitutional amendment rules are still contested, yielding mixed and inconsistent findings. The key issue lies in overlooking the broader institutional context in which amending clauses are situated. This article presents a novel theoretical argument centered on the “institutional embeddedness.” Empirically, we leverage a unique, most different systems design that compares Australia and Switzerland to assess the direct and indirect effects of formal amendment clauses. Both federations implement an identical “direct-democratic model of constitutional change,” despite differences in size, the underlying societal structure, the federalism model, and form of democratic governance. Our empirical results reveal similar direct effects on minority protection, but differing indirect effects on federal dynamics differ significantly. The formal amendment rule sustains Switzerland’s decentralized federal order, while contributing to pronounced centralizing trends in Australian federalism. These findings have vital implications for constitutional design, highlighting that the specific institutional context is decisive, not just the formal amendment rule.

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