Distinctive identity claims in federal systems: Judicial policing of subnational variance. Part 2

Available in Russian

Available for free

Authors: Antoni Abat i Ninet, James A. Gardner

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2017-5-48-56

Keywords: constitutional justice; federalism; Каталония; Квебек; Корсика; Сардиния; Техас; требования о самостоятельности и самобытности


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’ 2 [Distinctive identity claims in federal systems: Judicial policing of subnational variance. Part 2]. Sravnitel’noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, no.5, pp.48–56. (In Russian).


Bednar J. (2009) The Robust Federation: Principles of Design, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Behnke N., Benz A. (2009) The Politics of Constitutional Change between Reform and Evolution. Publius: The Journal of Federalism, vol.39, no.2, pp.213–240.

Benz A. (1987) Regionalization and Decentralization. In: Bakvis H., Chandler W.M. (eds.) Federalism and The Role of the State, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp.127–146.

Benz A. (2008) Unsuccessful Reform and Successful Non-Reform – Constitutional Policy in Germany and Canada: Universität Osnabrück, Fern Universität in Hagen Research Paper, nos.21–23. Available at: https://verfassungswandel.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/paper-osnabruck-arthur-benz.pdf (дата обращения: 29.09.2017).

Brewer-Carías A.R. (1989) Judicial Review in Comparative Law, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Buchanan J., Tullock G. (1965) The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Cairns A.C. (1985) The Politics of Constitutional Renewal in Canada. In: Banting K.G., Simeon R. (eds.) Redesigning the State: The Politics of Constitutional Change, Toronto; Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, pp.95–145.

Chessa O. (2007) La resurrezione della sovranità statale nella sentenza n.365 del 2007. Le Regioni, vol.36, no.1, pp.227–238.

Dixon R., Holden R. (2012) Constitutional Amendment Rules: The Denominator Problem. In: Ginsburg T. (ed.) Comparative Constitutional Design, New York: Cambridge University Press, pp.195–218.

Filippov M., Shvetsova A. (2013) Federalism, Democracy, and Democratization. In: Benz A., Broschek J.(eds.) Federal Dynamics: Continuity, Change, and the Varieties or Federalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.167–184.

Galanter M. (1974) Why the “Haves” Come Out Ahead: Speculations on the Limits of Legal Change. Law and Society Review, vol.9, no.1, pp.95–160.

Gardner J.A. (2005) Interpreting State Constitutions: A Jurisprudence of Function in a Federal System, Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Henrard K. (2002) Minority Protection in Post-Apartheid South Africa: Human Rights, Minority Rights, and Self-Determination, Westport, CT; London: Praeger.

Hogg P.W. (2007) Constitutional Law of Canada, 5th ed., Scarborough, ON: Thomson Carswell.

Ku R. (1996) Consensus of the Governed: The Legitimacy of Constitutional Change. Fordham Law Review, vol.64, no.2, pp.535–586.

Kymlicka W. (1995) Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Mangia A. (2007) Il federalismo della descrizione e il federalismo della prescrizione. Giurisprudenza Costituzionale, vol.52, no.6, pp.4045–4052.

McWhinney E. (1969) Judicial Review, 4th ed., Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Murphy W.F. (2007) Constitutional Democracy: Creating and Maintaining a Just Political Order, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Myerson R.B. (1991) Game Theory. Analysis of Conflict, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Nugent J.D. (2009) Safeguarding Federalism: How States Protect Their Interests in National Policymaking, Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

Palermo F. (2012) Italy: A Federal Country without Federalism. In Burgess M., Tarr G.A. (eds.) Constitutional Dynamics in Federal Systems: Subnational Perspectives, Montreal; Kingston; London; Ithaca: Mc-Gill-Queen’s University Press, pp.237–254.

Russell P.H. (1992) Constitutional Odyssey: Can Canadians Be a Sovereign People? Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Sartori G. (1994) Comparative Constitutional Engineering: An Inquiry into Structures, Incentives and Outcomes, Basingstoke; London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Saunders C. (1995) Constitutional Arrangements of Federal Systems. Publius: The Journal of Federalism, vol.25, no.2, pp.61–79.

Schneier E. (2006) Crafting Constitutional Democracies: The Politics of Institutional Design, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Scholtz C. (2013) Federalism and Policy Change: An Analytic Narrative of Indigenous Land Rights Policy in Australia (1966–1978). Canadian Journal of Political Science, vol.46, no.2, pp.397–418.

Vermeule A. (2011) The System of the Constitution, New York: Oxford University Press.

Voigt S. (1999) Explaining Constitutional Change: a Positive Economics Approach, Cheltenham; Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Watts R.L. (1999) Federalism in Fragmented and Segmented Societies. In: Kramer J., Schneider H.-P. (eds.) Federalism and Civil Societies: an International Symposium, Baden-Baden: Nomos.