Constitutional crisis

Wallis Simpson Motion of no confidence Constitution of Spain

In political science, a constitutional crisis is a problem or conflict in the function of a government that the political constitution or other fundamental governing law is perceived to be unable to resolve. There are several variations to this definition. For instance, one describes it as the crisis that arises out of the failure, or at least a strong risk of failure, of a constitution to perform its central functions.[1] The crisis may arise from a variety of possible causes. For example, a government may want to pass a law contrary to its constitution; the constitution may fail to provide a clear answer for a specific situation; the constitution may be clear but it may be politically infeasible to follow it; the government institutions themselves may falter or fail to live up to what the law prescribes them to be; or officials in the government may justify avoiding dealing with a serious problem based on narrow interpretations of the law.[2][3] Specific examples include the South African Coloured vote constitutional crisis in the 1950s, the secession of the southern U.S. states in 1860 and 1861, the controversial dismissal of the Australian Federal government in 1975 and the 2007 Ukrainian crisis.

Constitutional crises may arise from conflicts between different branches of government, conflicts between central and local governments, or simply conflicts among various factions within society. In the course of government, the crisis results when one or more of the parties to a political dispute willfully chooses to violate a law of the constitution; or to flout an unwritten constitutional convention; or to dispute the correct, legal interpretation of the violated constitutional law or of the flouted political custom. This was demonstrated by the so-called XYZ Affair, which involved the bribery of French officials by a contingent of American commissioners who were sent to preserve peace between France and the United States.[4] The incident was published in the American press and created a foreign policy crisis, which precipitated the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts. Opposition to these acts in the form of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions cited that they violated freedom of speech and exhorted states to refuse their enforcement since they violated the Constitution.[4]

Moreover, if the crisis arises because the constitution is legally ambiguous, the ultimate resolution usually establishes the legal precedent to resolve future crises of constitutional administration. Such was the case in the United States presidential succession of John Tyler, which established that a successor to the presidency assumes the office without any limitation.

Politically, a constitutional crisis can lead to administrative paralysis and eventual collapse of the government, the loss of political legitimacy, or to civil war. A constitutional crisis is distinct from a rebellion, which occurs when political factions outside a government challenge the government's sovereignty, as in a coup d'état or a revolution led by the military or by civilians.


Democratic Republic of the Congo

Patrice Lumumba



Republic of The Gambia


South Africa






Sri Lanka





John of England signs Magna Carta. Illustration from Cassell's History of England (1902)





Order of Malta





This covers the Kingdom of Scotland, which became part of the Kingdom of Great Britain after 1707. For constitutional crises since then, see United Kingdom below.


Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, addresses the crowd following the unilateral declaration of independence on 27 October

United Kingdom

North America



United States

The Electoral Commission was a panel that resolved the disputed presidential election of 1876.




New Zealand

Papua New Guinea


South America




See also


  1. ^ Contiades, Xenophon (2016). Constitutions in the Global Financial Crisis: A Comparative Analysis. Oxon: Routledge. p. 53. ISBN 9781409466314.
  2. ^ Azari, Julia; Masket, Seth (February 9, 2017). "The 4 Types of Constitutional Crises". FiveThirtyEight.
  3. ^ Graber, Mark A. (2015). A New Introduction to American Constitutionalism. Oxford University Press. p. 244.
  4. ^ a b Sinopoli, Richard (1996). From Many, One: Readings in American Political and Social Thought. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. p. 185. ISBN 0878406263.
  5. ^ Hoskyns, Catherine (1968). The Congo since independence, January 1960-December, 1961.
  6. ^ "Q&A: Egypt constitutional crisis". BBC. 24 December 2012.
  7. ^ Frisch, Hillel. "Egypt's Constitutional Crisis". Retrieved 16 November 2011.
  8. ^ "Gambian president Yahya Jammeh rejects election result". The Guardian. Reuters. 9 December 2016. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  9. ^ "Gambia crisis: Senegal troops 'enter' to back new president". BBC. January 19, 2017. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  10. ^ Barber, Nick (2012). The Constitutional State.
  11. ^ Monarchy of Norway#Council of State[better source needed]
  12. ^ Storting[better source needed]
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b Huskey, Eugene (2016). Presidential Power in Russia. London: Routledge. ISBN 9781315482194.
  15. ^ a b Taylor, Brian (2003). Politics and the Russian Army: Civil-Military Relations, 1689–2000. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 282. ISBN 0521816742.
  16. ^ Saunders, Robert; Strukov, Vlad (2010). Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 132.
  17. ^ Bogdanor, Vernon (1997). The Monarchy and the Constitution.
  18. ^ "Suspending Parliament was unlawful, court rules". 2019-09-24. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
  19. ^ Bloomberg, Edward Evans and Jonathan Browning | (2019-09-24). "Analysis | How Brexit Could Unleash a U.K. Constitutional Crisis". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  20. ^ Sandbach, Antoinette (2019-09-25). "Constitutional crisis: this looks like lights out for Boris and Brexit". ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  21. ^ Green, David Allen (September 2, 2019). "The UK has not yet had a constitutional crisis over Brexit—but it could do soon". Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  22. ^ "From Magna Carta to Brexit: 800 years of constitutional crises in Britain". Reuters. 2019-08-30. Retrieved 2019-09-25.
  23. ^ Dickinson, H. T. (2014). Britain and the American Revolution.
  24. ^ Ellis, Richard E. (1989). The Union at Risk: Jacksonian Democracy, States' Rights and the Nullification Crisis.
  25. ^ Philip Abbott (23 June 2008). Accidental Presidents: Death, Assassination, Resignation, and Democratic Succession. Springer. ISBN 978-0-230-61303-4.
  26. ^ McCullough, David (2003). Truman. p. 1069.
  27. ^ Marcus, Maeva (1994). Truman and the Steel Seizure Case.
  28. ^ Pohlman, Harry (2005). Constitutional Debate in Action: Governmental Powers.
  29. ^ Schudson, Michael (1992). Watergate in American Memory.
  30. ^ Kenny, Mark (3 November 2017). "Citizenship fiasco deepens, threatening Malcolm Turnbull's authority". Canberra Times. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  31. ^ Remeikis, Amy (18 August 2017). "Constitutional crisis leaves Turnbull government fighting for its political life". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 25 August 2017.
  32. ^ Ireland, Judith; Massola, James (19 August 2017). "Barnaby Joyce, Fiona Nash citizenship saga: Nationals in crisis, government in turmoil". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 25 August 2017.
  33. ^ Acuerdo de la Cámara de Diputados sobre el grave quebrantamiento del orden constitucional y legal de la República