Constitutional Limits on Government: Study Questions

Suggested Study Questions and Activities

Teachers: The following are questions and activities that can be given to your students after they read the materials in each section. The questions are meant to be asked as a review exercise, although some encourage critical thinking as well. The activities can be presented as classroom exercises or as individual homework assignments. Unlike the questions, they tend to require additional research. Some call for students to create mock trials or debates that would engage the entire class. Both the questions and the activities are formatted so that they might be used directly by students, although you may rewrite them as you feel necessary.

Essential Principles

Class Questions

(1) What constitutional model offers the best foundation for limited government: parliamentary systems, presidential systems, or mixed parliamentary-presidential systems? Is one better or worse than another?

(2) The current and historical examples of absolutism and totalitarianism offer clear negative reasons for establishing limited government in order to prevent state tyranny. What are positive reasons for establishing constitutional limits on government?


(1) Consider the complex arrangement of constitutional limits in the U.S. establishing checks and balances on power and recent arguments that such limits create political gridlock, making it difficult to adopt legislation addressing major. Find articles addressing the problem of “gridlock” and divided government in the U.S. system. Hold a debate on the question: “The U.S. Constitutional System is Unable to Deal with Current Problems and Should Be Amended: Yes or No?” Choose a specific issue that has been considered “intractable” as an example to answer the question. Draw on American history for examples that demonstrate the merits and demerits of the American system in order to make the argument in favor of your position. Create teams to deal with different aspects of the problem.

(2) Today, the most widely used constitutional models in the world are those of Great Britain (a parliamentary model) and the United States (a presidential model). Many countries have been influenced by their former colonial rulers (France, Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain). Meanwhile, the Communist model, which competed internationally with democracy during the 20th century, is the governing principle in only a handful of countries today. Review the country studies in other sections for different examples and lessons in constitutionalism. Which countries have established stable constitutions with separation of powers, checks and balances, and other forms of accountability? Which haven't? Make a list comparing them. What aspects of constitutionalism from the different traditions mentioned above provide best for a stable democracy and human rights?



(1) Does France's strong presidency pose threats to democratic rule? What protections under the constitution exist to prevent the arrogation of powers by the French president? What limits on state power exist as a result of France’s membership in the European Union and Council of Europe?

(2) Refer to the Country Study and to the Freedom in the World survey overview for France. What prominent issues in the last five years have involved constitutional limits on power in France?


(1) France adopted a law banning women from wearing full face and body coverings (the niqab and burqa) in 2010. In June 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the law was “a legitimate attempt to preserve the norms of France’s diverse society” and did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights. Organize a discussion (or debate) in class on the issue: Is such a ban consistent with principles of freedom of expression or freedom of religion? Is it a violation of principles of constitutional limits or a legitimate means of fostering equality and preventing male domination of women? Explore why the ban was adopted, what arguments justified passage of the law, what arguments opposed it. What is the relationship of this law to the long-standing public policy of laïcité (or separation of church and state)? What other countries have adopted similar laws and why? Find pro- and con- views in the legislative and public debates on the issue in Europe.  Have there been similar attempts to adopt such a law in the U.S.?

(2) The 2015 terrorist attacks in France prompted the president to use his emergency powers to suspend several constitutional provisions to allow for widespread searches without warrants of homes and workplaces, the indefinite holding of terror suspects, the closing of mosques suspected of harboring radical jihadists, among others. Should the National Assembly support the president’s request to make permanent changes to the constitution to allow such practices generally? What is justified in the war against terror? What issues in the U.S. relate to what is happening in France?



Why did President Serrano's 1993 attempt to seize power fail? Are Guatemala's current constitutional safeguards sufficient to prevent the return of dictatorship?

What has characterized Guatemala’s democracy since 1985? What aspects hinder democracy? What aspects strengthen democracy? How has France established greater stability under its constitution?


Examine the Survey of Freedom report on Guatemala and the methodology used in the Survey. Why is Guatemala in the “partly free” category instead of the free category despite having had free elections for 25 years? Do you agree with its assessment? What are weaknesses in Guatemala’s constitutional limits? Organize a debate in class: Should Guatemala be characterized as “free” or “partly free”? Why?

Look at recent newspaper stories and other resources (e.g. Human Rights Watch) concerning the Attorney General’s case against Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity. Should Ríos Montt face charges of genocide for his counter-terrorism campaign in the early 1980s? Discuss: Is accountability or stability more important for Guatemalan society?



Why is Uzbekistan characterized by Freedom House as among “the worst of the worst” countries in terms of freedom and human rights? What makes Uzbekistan “not free” in comparison to France and Guatemala? What makes it “worse” than other “not free” countries?


Examine The New York Times and Washington Post articles on the use of child labor in Uzbekistan. Investigate the campaigns being organized to get rid of child labor in Uzbekistan and other countries using the sources in the Post article as well as such sources the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center and the International Labor Rights Forum. Why has Uzbekistan lied about its continued use of child labor? What actions do you think could be used to influence the government of Uzbekistan to end this practice?

Examine constitutional limits and safeguards in France. What constitutional limits in free countries prevent governments from using indiscriminate or excessive force in cases of civil unrest (as Islam Karimov ordered in Andijon in 2005)? Examine Freedom House’s and Human Rights Watch’s reports on Uzbekistan. What freedoms exist in international law under International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that should prevent the use of force against citizens?