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What is the Preamble to a Constitution for?

preamble.jpgFor various reasons, the question in the title has come up several times today. As a first thought, it seems to me that the Preamble to a Constitution sets out some general aspirational sentiments about the nature of the polity being created by that Constitution. It is a general statement which introduces the document and its purposes, ambitions, principles, and commitments, and thereby serves to explain its raison d’etre. In modern American parlance, it’s where the polity puts ‘the vision thing‘ for its members and others to find. Such broad brush strokes are inappropriate for binding text, but, because it is an expression of the polity’s vision, it is a useful aid for guiding the interpretation of the text which follows. Famously, the Preamble to the US Constitution does this in a single sentence. That to the Irish Constitution is a little longer.

So, my question is this: is the above paragraph a fair summary of what constitutional preambles do, or not?

3 Responses to “What is the Preamble to a Constitution for?”

  1. David Malone says:

    You probably should have included a execuative summary to your paragraph.

    I guess there is also a possibility that it it a place to put stuff that you didn’t want to put in the constitution itself. As they say in Yes Minister (the one on open government), “you always dispose of. the difficult bit in the title”.

  2. […] its internal affairs. In the restatement of TCD’s Statutes which come into force today, the Preamble sets out some values and aspirations to inform and underpin their interpretation and application. […]

  3. […] posed the question in title in an earlier post on this blog. In an article published in the current issue of the International Journal of Constitutional Law, […]

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Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I'm Eoin O'Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie - the Irish for rights.

"Cearta" really is the Irish word for rights, so the title provides a good sense of the scope of this blog.

In general, I write here about private law, free speech, and cyber law; and, in particular, I write about Irish law and education policy.

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