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Popular Sovereignty and Seven Fundamental Principles of Constitutional Law

by Professor Will Huhn on March 15, 2011

in Constitutional Law,Wilson Huhn

The foundation principle of Constitutional Law is that the people are sovereign – all just powers of the government are derived from the consent of the governed.

In an article recently published by William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal I propose that seven fundamental principles of Constitutional Law are derived from the notion of "popular sovereignty" – the idea that the people are sovereign.   Those principles are:

1. The Rule of Law. The people are sovereign and their will is expressed through law. The Constitution is ordained and established as law â the supreme law of the land.

2. Limited Government. The people are sovereign, not the government. By adopting the Constitution the people created the government, imposed limits upon its power, and divided that power among different levels and branches.

3. Inalienable Rights. Every individual person is sovereign in the sense that he or she retains certain inalienable rights, which the government is bound to respect.

4. Equal Political Rights. Each person is a sovereign political actor; therefore each person has an equal right to participate in government. Accordingly, the Constitution protects freedom of political expression, freedom of political association, the equal right to vote, and the principle of majority rule.

5. Separation of Church and State. The people are sovereign, not God. Laws reflect the will of the people, not the presumed will of God. Religious authority is not a legitimate basis to support the enactment or interpretation of any law or the adoption of any official practice.

6. The Power of the National Government Over the States. The American people are sovereign, not the states. No state has the power to secede from the union or to nullify any federal law. The states retain only those powers not granted to the federal government or reserved to the people.

7. National Independence and the Limited Authority of International Law. The American people as a whole are sovereign and independent and are not subject to any foreign law or power. The political representatives of the American people have the power to abrogate treaties or other forms of international law.

The historical evolution of the principle of popular sovereignty and its influence on Constitutional Law is discussed in the article  Constantly Approximating Popular Sovereignty: Seven Fundamental Principles of Constitutional Law, 19 William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal 291 (2010)

Professor Huhn has taught Constitutional Law at the University of Akron for over a quarter century. You may access his websites on Constitutional Law and Health Care Financing Reform for additional materials and information about those subjects. Drafts of his scholarly work are available from his author page at ssrn: