Constitutional Referendums: A Theoretical Enquiry

24 Pages Posted: 5 May 2009

See all articles by Stephen Tierney

Stephen Tierney

University of Edinburgh - School of Law


In recent decades the use of referendums to settle major constitutional questions has increased dramatically. Addressing this phenomenon as a case study in the relationship between democracy and constitutional sovereignty, this article has two aims. The first is to argue that these constitutional referendums are categorically different from ordinary, legislative referendums, and that this has important implications for theories of constitutional sovereignty. Secondly, the article suggests that the power of these constitutional referendums to re-order sovereign relations raises significant normative questions surrounding the appropriateness of their use. The article engages with these normative questions, enquiring whether the recent turn in republican political theory towards deliberative democracy may offer a model through which sufficiently democratic referendum processes can be constructed.

Suggested Citation

Tierney, Stephen, Constitutional Referendums: A Theoretical Enquiry. Modern Law Review, Vol. 72, Issue 3, pp. 360-383, May 2009, Available at SSRN: or

Stephen Tierney (Contact Author)

University of Edinburgh - School of Law ( email )

Old College
South Bridge
Edinburgh, EH8 9YL
United Kingdom

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics