State Constitutions for the 21st Century

With the help of grants from The Ford Foundation, the Center for State Constitutional Studies in 2006 completed its very successful “State Constitutions for the 21st Century” project, with the publication of the three-volume State Constitutions for the Twenty-first Century (State University of New York Press).

Initiated early in 2000, this project brought together a nationwide collaboration of scholars, public officials, civil-society groups, and other experts to devise and disseminate materials to guide the revision of American state constitutions and to provide assistance to constitutional reformers. This project was designed to promote several important goals, including:

  1. Encouraging citizens in all states to reconsider whether their constitutional systems are adequate to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century;
  2. Providing the basis for a nationwide movement for state constitutional reform;
  3. Informing and structuring the debate in states that are contemplating constitutional change;
  4. Providing a resource and a weapon for those advocating positive constitutional change in the states;
  5. Providing technical assistance for those engaged in the task of drafting state constitutional provisions; and
  6. Stimulating additional research on how state constitutional arrangements affect the equity and effectiveness of American state governments.

Successful state constitutional reform requires that the political, technical, and substantive problems associated with constitutional change be addressed. The political problems impeding state constitutional reform range from inertia, to opposition by interests benefiting from existing constitutional arrangements, to the difficulty of marshaling forces in support of positive constitutional change. Volume 1 of State Constitutions for the Twenty-first Century: The Politics of State Constitutional Reform addresses the experience of states that have sought to overcome these obstacles and the lessons to be drawn from their efforts.

Technical problems may impede state constitutional reform as well, as even well-intentioned constitutional changes may, by virtue of problems in drafting, fail to achieve their desired effects. Volume 2 of State Constitutions for the Twenty-first Century: Drafting State Constitutions, Revisions, and Amendments addresses these problems and provides a guide for drafters of state constitutions.

The substantive problems confronting state constitutional reform are primarily problems of constitutional design: what changes in state constitutions will enable state governments to be more effective, equitable, and responsive and will equip them to deal with the challenges of the twenty-first century? Volume 3 of State Constitutions for the Twenty-first Century: The Agenda of State Constitutional Reform provides guidance for reformers by assessing the strengths and weaknesses of existing state constitutions with regard to rights, the three branches of state government, local government, constitutional change, and various policy areas. It also offers suggestions for constitutional change.