Monday, January 25, 2010

Constitutions, Everywhere

If you’ve ever had a cite-checking assignment which involved locating various constitutions, you probably have a few tricks up your sleeve already. The U.S. Constitution and its amendments are widely accessible: GPO Access offers the annotated Constitution of the United States: Analysis and Interpretation as well as unannotated “pocket editions” which are printed for each new Congress. The United States Code Annotated, the United States Code Service, and even Black’s Law Dictionary (to name just a few sources) reprint the text in every edition. You can even pore over a high-resolution scan of the original at the National Archives’ web site – in short, it’s probably harder to miss the U.S. Constitution than to find it.

Current state constitutions can be quickly accessed through the current state code (see the library’s State Codes collection on Level 3). Historical versions are available online to the Duke University community in Constitutions of the Countries of the World: National and State, and are frequently available as stand-alone volumes in the libraries’ collection. Try a subject keyword search of the catalog for “constitutions—[state]”; e.g. constitutions—North Carolina.

Constitutions of foreign countries can be more challenging to locate, but Duke University has access to the database Constitutions of the Countries and Territories of the World, which offers English translations of current and historical constitutions from around the world. The library’s research guide to Foreign & Comparative Law offers strategies for locating primary source materials from other countries (see the “Finding Foreign Law in Translation” section).

One source listed there, though, has proven to be useful not only for foreign constitutional law, but historical U.S. research as well. The Rise of Modern Constitutionalism, 1776-1849 is an international project dedicated to preserving all constitutions from this critical time period in world history. Although Duke does not subscribe to the full version of this database, much material is provided in the “Public Access” version, including page-image scans of the documents. (Unfortunately, researchers must view pages as individual images, and cannot easily download entire documents as PDFs.) Constitutions can be searched by keyword or browsed by country, sub-national unit (i.e. states, provinces, etc.) or date. Check out the listing for North Carolina, which includes the version available in Constitutions of the Countries of the World: National and State as well as a “Failed Constitution” from 1823. In addition, this website offers constitutions from foreign countries (and sub-national units) in their original languages.

Need additional help researching constitutions, no matter where they're from? Ask a Librarian!