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How do we organize a constitutional government to prevent abuse of power?


This is not a rhetorical or even a political question. It is a school assignment! Hurrah for teachers, especially those who try out their own assignments before handing them over to their students (and their students’ parents).

Librarians get to help answer students’ reference and research questions, public librarians more than law librarians, but we (Oregon law librarians, that is) also often have the opportunity and honor to pitch in to help students answer their law-related questions, especially when the question comes through L-net, the Oregon statewide online reference service. (Many states have one of these online reference services, in addition to email/IM reference services offered through individual libraries or library systems.)

So, how about that Abuse of Power and Constitutions assignment? It had a follow-up exercise too: “Give an example of a nation that is not a constitutional government.”

And here’s one possible law librarian-ish response (and there are others, many others):

This could be a fun assignment. You get to design your own government! It might be a good exercise for Second Life 🙂

But onward to the assignment:

1) Before deciding how to prevent an abuse of power, you need to define or at least decide what you mean when you say “abuse of power.” Great minds will differ on the subject. You can use dictionaries and databases (or books) on history and government to find a definition.

You can also start by typing the phrase “define abuse of power” into Google. Make sure you look at half-a-dozen or more of the entries. There will be lots of definitions to choose from.

2) Once you have a definition, then you have to decide which particular abuses of power you want to prevent, assuming you can’t prevent them all. One can dream!

3) Once you’ve decided which abuses of power you want to prevent, then you can start looking at constitutions and what form of government you want to create.

You will probably need to look in those same history and government databases, mentioned above, but a pretty good and quick overview can be found at Wikipedia. I wouldn’t cite to it in a paper, or use it for serious research, but it’s an excellent place to get ideas. Try these:

a) Government
b) Forms of Government

There is also a
Cliff Notes Drafting the Constitution

There are number of websites that link to the constitutions of different countries:
a) Constitution Finder

b) Findlaw Constitutions of the World
c) You can also search Google using this search string “constitutions world” or a variation on it.

But, you also need to find a country without a constitution, don’t you? You could try this Google search: “countries without constitutions,” but that brings up mostly countries without written constitution, not countries without any constitution. But try these links at this International Constitutional Law site.

And don’t forget the incomparable CIA Factbook, which has tons of information about foreign governments, whether or not they have constitutions, and has made students’ lives easier for many a decade (in print and now on the web). (See also their Kids’ Pages too.)

Let us know if these searches don’t get you what you need. We can look for other resources.

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