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I've heard some armies make oaths to defend the constitution. Also I've heard about sheriffs publicly refusing to enforce a law on constitutional grounds. I'm not sure if they have the legitimacy to do this. In many constitutions there is an article which states only supreme court members can interpret the constitution, but I suppose that's not the case for all constitutions in the world. And may be there are countries where other members of the government are allowed to interpret the constitution. Do these cases exist?

Are there examples in the world in some countries, of non supreme court members of the governments having legitimacy to interpret the constitution?

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    Everyone interprets the constitution. For example, when a country's president of a implements a program authorized by the legislature, the president (or subordinates) must decide whether the program's provisions violate the constitution. They will almost always do this without bothering the supreme court with the question (and in some countries, including the US, they cannot ask the supreme court prospectively). I suppose you mean to ask about the authority to make binding rulings on questions of constitutional interpretation (which US appeals courts can also do, subject to review). Do you?
    – phoog
    Apr 17 at 20:29
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In the USA, all courts can interpret the constitution. In fact all individuals can legitimately interpret the constitution.

But an individual's interpretation can be tested in court.

And the decision of any lower court can be appealed.

Ultimately any significant interpretation of the constitution can end up in the Supreme Court. It is not that the Supreme Court is the only body that can interpret the Constitution, rather it is the only body whose judgements can't be appealed.

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  • While it is true that it can't be appealed it doesn't mean that a decision can't be overruled by other actions.
    – Joe W
    Apr 17 at 4:34
  • Well of course, the several states can rewrite the constitution. And a later court can reverse the decision of an earlier court (but they tend not to do so)
    – James K
    Apr 17 at 18:40
  • I think it happens more often that you would expect
    – Joe W
    Apr 17 at 18:57
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In Finland, the Constitutional Law Committee of the Parliament decides whether a proposed bill is constitutional and can be approved with a simple majority. The committee consists entirely of elected politicians. Somewhat surprisingly, the committee is mostly apolitical and strives to reach unanimous decisions. If anything, it is often criticized for taking a dogmatic view of the constitution and ignoring the practical consequences of its decisions.

Any court may also find that an ordinary law is in conflict with the constitution in the specific situation. The court may then choose to give precedence to the constitution. This does not invalidate the law, but it does set a precedent for similar situations.

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  • "may then choose to give precedence to the constitution"? Or "must..."?
    – phoog
    Apr 17 at 20:31
  • @phoog I'm not an expert. I think the court must first establish that the law and the constitution are in conflict by any reasonable interpretetation. If the conflict is not clear and obvious enough, the court may decide that a potential conflict exists but it is not sufficient to give precedence to the constitution. Apr 17 at 21:43
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In many systems with separate heads of government and heads of state (usually called "Prime Ministers" and "Presidents" in English) is to judge the constitutionality of laws before signing them. Some examples below.


France (who has many other duties compared to the other presidents below):

The president promulgates laws.The president has a suspensive veto: when presented with a law, they can request another reading of it by Parliament, but only once per law. The president may also refer the law for review to the Constitutional Council prior to promulgation.

Germany:

All federal laws must be signed by the president before they can come into effect. ... In principle, the president has the full veto authority on any bill, but this, however, is not how past presidents handled their power. ... Only in cases in which the incumbent president had serious doubts about the constitutionality of a bill laid before him, he has refused to sign it.

India:

[The president]'s prime duty is to prevent unconstitutional decisions of [the national] and state governments and parliament or state assemblies by denying his compulsory assent for making them into applicable laws. He is the foremost defender of the constitution who can pre-empt the unconstitutional activities of executive and legislatures

Ireland:

The president may refer a bill, in whole or part, to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality.

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In Germany, the constitution states that the Bundespräsident signs laws, which are then officially published and come into force. The constitution does not spell out what happens when the President refuses to sign -- there no formalized veto-and-override process.

Historically many cases were about which chamber needs to pass the law. Some laws in Germany are passed by the parliament alone, some require the consent of the states. When the President indicated that he thought the states had to be involved, that missing vote was held, or the constitution was amended to clarify if the federal parliament had the competency to pass it alone.

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The German Federal Constitutional Court ("Bundesverfassungsgericht") is not a "supreme" appellate court; Germany has a separate Federal Court of Justice ("Bundesgerichtshof") for that. The Federal Constitutional Court explicitly is tasked with constitutional interpretation, and stands besides the normal court hierarchy.

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    Actually Germany has two main supreme courts, the Bundesgerichtshof and the Bundesverwaltungsgericht and a few smaller ones but the Bundesverfassungsgericht does not really stand beside them as it can reverse their decisions (that's the so-called Kelsenian model). For a constitutional court that is truly beside the supreme courts, France is a better example.
    – Relaxed
    Apr 16 at 8:40
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In the UK, all laws formally require the Monarch's consent. This is very much a formality, and in practice the modern Monarch would never fail to grant consent to passed legislation, but technically speaking it's possible for the Monarch to refuse consent for whatever which reasons, including it being "unconstitutional". This is probably a common feature of many existing Constitutional Monarchies, though I haven't delved into them to know which for sure do.

But the supreme sovereign authority in the UK is Parliament. They can strip the Monarch of whatever which powers they so desire, or otherwise modify them; or add powers even, though I don't think that's happened in a very long time. Similarly, Parliament can also overrule any court ruling by simply passing a law to that effect.

As a subcase, the House of Lords, the upper chamber of the Parliament, ostensibly has its primary function to be reviewing new legislation for conflicts with existing legislation and "constitutionality". Before the creation of the UK Supreme Court, it was in fact the explicit power of the House of Lords to serve as a sort of "Supreme Court". Though keep in mind that there is no single written Constitution in the UK. It is rather the abstract corpus of all traditions, laws, and treaties. But this is otherwise, in some sense, a power of the sort you desire.

As before, if the Lords declare a given piece of legislation problematic, the Commons can simply override that declaration and pass the legislation anyway (in practice they usually try to amend the law in question to avoid or eliminate the issues, or make it clear which of itself or existing laws is to take precedence when in conflict). They could even go so far as to alter the Lords and their powers, or eliminate the upper chamber entirely.

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