The Constitution Unit


James Melton

Honorary Senior Lecturer


James Melton was a Senior Lecturer at UCL from 2012 to 2015. His expertise in cross-national constitution making strengthens the comparative aspect of the Constitution Unit's research. James uses this expertise to understand the effect of constitutional text on economic, political, and social development. He contributes a regular column to the Monitor on "Worldwide Constitutional Developments" and feeds into the comparative dimensions of the Unit's research projects.

James's interest in comparative constitutional design stems from his involvement with the Comparative Constitutions Project (CCP). The CCP is an effort to investigate the sources and consequences of constitutional choices. Towards this end, James has worked with Zachary Elkins (Associate Professor, University of Texas at Austin) and Tom Ginsburg (Professor, University of Chicago Law School) since 2005 to catalogue the contents of all constitutions written in independent states since 1789. Through his involvement with the CCP, James has read dozens of constitutions, providing him with substantial knowledge of constitutions in a wide variety of countries.

Prior to his appointment at UCL, James was an Assistant Professor (2009-2012) at the IMT Institute for Advanced Studies in Lucca, Italy, and earned a Ph.D. (2009) from the Department of Political Science at the University of Illinois. He also holds an M.A. from the Department of Political Science at the University of Illinois and a B.A. from the Department of Political Science at Illinois Wesleyan University. James is formally trained in comparative politics with an emphasis on economic, political, and social development. He also has extensive training in political science research methods.


James Melton's research at the Unit focused on comparative constitutional design. His research explored the origins, stability, and enforcement of formal constitutional texts. He is particularly interested in whether and how the text of countries' constitutions contributes to their economic, political, and social development.

James is perhaps best known for The Endurance of National Constitutions, which he co-authored with Zachary Elkins and Tom Ginsburg. The book argues that the design of constitutions affects their endurance, and presents both cross-national and case study evidence that flexible, inclusive, and specific constitutions live longer. The book won an award from the Comparative Democratization section of the American Political Science Association (APSA) in 2010 and an honorable mention for the William H. Riker award in 2011 from APSA's Political Economy section.

James has also written on occupation constitutions, executive term limits, the interpretability of constitutions, and the relationship between constitutional rights and countries' rights practices. One of the consistent findings in this work is that the text of the constitution matters: a finding that challenges more than 200 years of scholarship which saw constitutions as mere parchment barriers. These works have appeared in outlets like the British Journal of Political Science, the NYU Law Review, and the William and Mary Law Review.




    • "Constitute: The World's Constitutions to Read, Search, and Compare." 2014. Journal of Web Semantics. Forthcoming. (with Zachary Elkins, Tom Ginsburg, Robert Shaffer, Juan F. Sequeda and Daniel Miranker) Full Text
    • "Does De Jure Judicial Independence Really Matter? A Reevaluation of Explanations for Judicial Independence." 2014. Journal of Law and Courts. 2.2: 187-217. (with Tom Ginsburg) Full Text | Replication Data (Coming Soon!)
    • "On the Interpretability of Law: Lessons from the Decoding of National Constitutions." 2012. British Journal of Political Science. 43.2: 399-423. (with Zachary Elkins and Tom Ginsburg) Full Text | Replication Data
    • "Comments on Law and Versteeg, The Declining Influence of the U.S. Constitution." 2012. NYU Law Review. 87.6: 2088-2101. (with Zachary Elkins and Tom Ginsburg) Full Text | Replication Data
    • "On the Evasion of Executive Term Limits." 2011. William and Mary Law Review . 52.6: 1807-1872. (with Zachary Elkins and Tom Ginsburg) Full Text | Replication Data
    • "Democratic Compromise: A Latent Variable Analysis of Ten Measures of Regime Type." 2010. Political Analysis. 18.4: 426-449. (with Daniel Pemstein and Stephen Meserve) Full Text | Supplementary Material | Replication Information
    • "Baghdad, Tokyo, Kabul,...: Constitution Making in Occupied States." 2008. William & Mary Law Review. 49: 1139-1178. (with Zachary Elkins and Tom Ginsburg) Full Text | Replication Data


    • Elkins, Zachary, Tom Ginsburg, and James Melton. The Endurance of National Constitutions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Oct 2009)
    • "The Content of Authoritarian Constitutions." 2014. In Constitutions in Authoritarian Regimes. Eds. Tom Ginsburg and Alberto Simpser. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 141-164. (with Zachary Elkins and Tom Ginsburg) Buy the Book | Replication Data (Coming Soon!)
    • "Constitutions and the Management of Elections." 2014. In Advancing Electoral Integrity. Eds. Pippa Norris, Richard W. Frank and Ferran Martinez I Coma. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 94-117. (with Svitlana Chernykh, Zachary Elkins and Tom Ginsburg) Buy the Book | Replication Data (Coming Soon!)
    • "Do Executive Term Limits Cause Constitutional Crises ." 2012. In Comparative Constitutional Design. Ed. Tom Ginsburg. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 350-380. (with Zachary Elkins and Tom Ginsburg) Buy the Book | Replication Data

    Working Papers

    • "Does the Constitutional Amendment Rule Matter at All? Amendment Cultures and the Challenges of Measuring Amendment Difficulty." (with Tom Ginsburg) Full Text
    • "Credibly Committing to Property Rights: The Roles of Reputation, Institutions, and the Constitution." Full Text | Online Appendix
    • "Constitutional Constraints on Executive Lawmaking." (with Zachary Elkins and Tom Ginsburg) Full Text

    Newsletters and Other Publications

    • "Norway's Enduring Constitution: Implications for Countries in Transition." 2014. International IDEA. (with Tom Ginsburg) Full Text
    • "U.S. Gun Rights Are Truly American Exceptionalism." 2013. Bloomberg View. (with Zachary Elkins and Tom Ginsburg) Full Text
    • "Lessons from the Decoding and Coding of National Constitutions." 2011. APSA-CD Newsletter. 9.1: 2, 11-14. (with Zachary Elkins and Tom Ginsburg) Full Text
    • "Military Occupations and Their Constitutional Residual." 2008. APSA-CP Newsletter. 19.1: 7-10. (with Zachary Elkins and Tom Ginsburg) Full Text
    • "Measuring Culture and Cultural Change." 2003. Res Publica. 8: 119-150. Full Text


    • Do Parties Ideological Positions Matter? The Effects of Alienation and Indifference on Individuals' Turnout Decisions. 2009. Full Text