Distinctive identity claims in federal systems: Judicial policing of subnational variance. Part 1

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Authors: Antoni Abat i Ninet, James A. Gardner

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2017-4-69-91

Keywords: Catalonia; constitutional justice; Corsica; distinctive identity claims; federalism; Quebec; Sardinia; subjects of Federation; Texas


It is characteristic of federal states that the scope of subnational power and autonomy are subjects of frequent dispute, and that disagreements over the reach of national and subnational power may be contested in a wide and diverse array of settings. Subnational units determined to challenge nationally imposed limits on their power typically have at their disposal many tools with which to press against formal boundaries. Federal systems, moreover, frequently display a surprising degree of tolerance for subnational obstruction, disobedience, and other behaviors intended to expand subnational authority and influence, even over national objection. This tolerance, however, has limits. In this first party of article, the authors examine a set of rulings by national constitutional courts invalidating formalized claims by subnational units to a distinctive subnational identity. The emphatically negative reactions of these courts suggest that the legal formalization of distinctive identity claims is perceived by courts to pose an unusually acute threat to the state. It is important to note that the authors included in their research only two “classical” federal states – the USA and Canada. Other examples are Italy, Spain, both of which authors themselves called “quasi-federal”, and unitary France. The latter is taken because of situation with the status of Corsica. The authors explained this choice by two points: a very few numbers of subjects’ analyzed – judicial rulings, and similarity of approaches to the cases and final decisions by the courts. Another interesting point is that whether French, Spanish, Italian and Canadian cases are concerned with pure constitutional matters – number and scope of powers, national, cultural and linguistic identity – the American case picked by the authors – Texas v. White of 1868, was grown up from rather trivial issue – the status of federal bonds in the context of American Civil War. But the core of the legal matters was the status of Texas as a state itself.

About the authors: Antoni Abat i Ninet – Professor, University of Copenhagen, Centre for Comparative and European Constitutional Studies, Copenhagen, Denmark; James A. Gardner – Interim Dean and Bridget and Thomas Black SUNY Distinguished Professor, SUNY Buffalo Law School, State University of New York, New York, USA.

Citation: Abat i Ninet A., Gardner J.A. (2017) Trebovaniya priznaniya samobytnosti v federativnoiy sisteme: sudebnyi nadzor za regional’noiy svobodoiy. Chast’ 1 [Distinctive identity claims in federal systems: Judicial policing of subnational variance. Part 1]. Sravnitel’noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, no.4, pp.69–91. (In Russian).


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