A constitution is the underlying legal structure of a sovereign state. Unlike a statute, a constitution cannot be changed by a mere majority vote of the legislative branch and requires a special procedure in order to amend it. It may be a written document (such as the United States Constitution), a collection of customs (the Constitution of the United Kingdom), or a mixture of both. At a minimum, a constitution will deal with:
- The powers of the various branches of government, such as the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.
- How statutes may be passed and promulgated.
It may also deal with:
- How the executive, legislature and judiciary are chosen (e.g. by election, hereditary or appointment);
- Limitations on the power of all branches of government (such as the United States Bill of Rights or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;
- Powers of states, provinces, cantons or other sub-divisions of the sovereign state in a federal system;
Since the United States Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison, the judicial branch of most western democracies has been accepted at the ultimate authority over whether a given statute is in violation of constitutional principles.