Comparing the U.S. & Texas Constitutions

The U.S. Constitution influenced many state constitutions, including several constitutions that have governed Texas; accordingly, there are several similarities between the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Constitution of 1876.  Like the U.S. Constitution, the Texas Constitution of 1876 outlines the purpose, structure, and function of the Texas government consisting of similar political institutions to those found in federal government (i.e., executive, legislative, and judicial branches; separation of powers; checks and balances), establishes a republican form of government that relies on federalism (different levels of government), and contains a bill of rights. 

Nevertheless, there are important differences between the two constitutions due to Texas’s distinct history and political culture.  Notably, the Texas Constitution of 1876 (~90,000 words) is significantly longer than the U.S. Constitution (~7,500 words).  A second key distinction, which relates to this difference in length, concerns strength of government: government is extremely limited in Texas. 

The Texas Constitution is the second-longest state constitution (Alabama comes in at #1 with ~315,000 words).  There are two main reasons the Texas Constitution of 1876 is so long: flexibility and restrictiveness.

flexible constitution is relatively easy to amend.  “Flexible constitutions are more adaptable, but such adaptability may not serve as sufficient guardian of minority rights” (Gooch, Texas Government: Theory & Politics, 2017, p. 21).  The Texas Constitution of 1876 is a flexible constitution, as is reflected by how many amendments it has and the fact that most joint resolutions to amend the state constitution passed by the Texas legislature end up being approved by the voters.   The U.S. Constitution, in contrast, is a rigid constitution.  Rigid constitutions are “considered a superior kind of law when compared to normal statutory law passed by the legislature” and, as such, are difficult to amend – not only due to the amendment process itself but also the number of amendments that are rejected (Gooch, Texas Government: Theory & Politics, 2017, p. 20).

The Texas Constitution is restrictive.  It contains many detailed provisions relating to various aspects of civic life, similar to statutory laws passed by a legislative body.  Furthermore, the Texas Constitution also clearly outlines the powers of state government.  Unlike in the U.S. Constitution, which grants Congress considerable implied powers through the elastic clause (which allows Congress to do those things which are necessary and proper to carry out its enumerated functions), there is no elastic clause in the Texas Constitution.  Instead, powers not explicitly stated are not granted to any political institution.  In this way, the Texas Constitution of 1876 creates an extremely limited government.  Because constitutional provisions are so detailed and cover so many areas of civic life, frequent changes are often necessary to keep the constitution up-to-date.

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