Constitutions: Written Regimes

Summary - Terms - Essential Questions - Headlines - Major Theories and Ideas - Past AP Questions - Comparative Chart


Within government systems, institutions design the structures of government organizations that shape the interests of groups and individuals. A constitution is an institution that establishes the fundamentals of a political system and its laws. Each constitution has its own separate powers between levels of government. These government powers include an executive branch, a legislative branch, and a possible judiciary. Since constitutions discuss its governmental features, they are the key to understanding the countries regime attributes and political aspirations.

Comparative Chart

Nigeria Mexico UK Russia China Iran
Unitary vs. Federal Federal Federal Republic Unitary, constitutional monarchy with parliamentary democracy Federal Republic Unitary, authoritarian, written constitution, officially socialist Unitary, theocracy, some features of presidential and parliamentary democracy

A multiparty system, but with restrictions

Legislative Bicameral

National Assembly:

Lower chamber: House of Reps

Upper Chamber: Senate

Bicameral Congress

Lower chamber: Chamber of Deputies

Upper chamber: Senate


Lower chamber: House of Commons

Upper chamber: House of Lords


Lower chamber: state duma

Upper chamber: federation council

National People’s Congress; elected in indirect elections from the village level up to NPC Elected parliament (majlis)

The Guardian Council can veto legislation

Executive Plurality; SMD

Direct election w/natl. Popular vote

Runoff with top two candidates who must secure 50% of the vote in the 1st round

If not, they must secure 25% of the vote in ⅔ of the state


PRI dominated until 2000 when PAN broke the monopoly

President elected by popular vote

Prime Minister (and cabinet)  

Elected by the House of Commons

Semi-presidential: president and PM

President is elected and appoints PM

Indirect; president selected by NPC

Three top positions:

President of people’s republic of China: the secretary general of the communist party; chairman of the central military council


Head of government

Election from within a set of candidates… approved by Guardian Council
Judiciary Supreme court, appointed by the president, confirmed by Senate Supreme court of Justice, 11 justices

Justices are nominated by the executive and approved by the legislature

Interprets statutes

No judicial review

Constitutional court = judicial review

Supreme arbitration court of the Russian Federation: economic issues

Supreme Court elected/appointed by NPC and its committees Controlled by religious conservatives, with Islamic law as the basis of the system

Supreme court and Judicial high council

PM/President Buhari (President) AMLO


Theresa May (PM) Putin (president)

Medvedev (PM)

Xi Jinping (president)

Li Keqiang (PM)

Rouhani (president)

Khamenei (PM, Ayatollah)

Major Theories and Ideas

Function: Express the value of a society, especially the ones relating to the unity of the people.

They are the contract of modern states and are usually written.

They outline the basic and foundational laws of that country.

Constitutions have two leading elements: federalism vs. unitarism and judicial power to review laws.

Essential Questions

Do the specificity and strictness of constitutions substantially limit the power of the government?

Are there fundamental differences between the constitutions of authoritarian societies and democratic societies?

Is the choice of abstract review versus concrete review a direct and inevitable consequence of the characteristics of the constitution?

What should be the goal of constitutions?

When constitutional ideas differ from changing moral standards, is it just to amend the constitution?

Can a strict constitution coexist with a robust federal system?

Should governments control constitutions, or should constitutions control governments?

With current computer technology, what are ways to predict a potential constitution’s impact on the state?


Past AP Questions

Free Response Question: What are some of the sources of political legitimacy established by the constitution of Iran? (2011)

Scoring Guideline

Free Response Question: In recent years, there have been many suggestions to change the constitutional structure of the United Kingdom. Describe some of these proposals. (2000)

Scoring Guideline