What Is an Unwritten Constitution?

An unwritten constitution encompasses ideas and processes that have come about through custom and precedent, although they are not expressly stated in the Constitution. The ideas and processes that are used in an unwritten constitution are recognized as a necessary part of the American government. These processes are typically used so often that many people fail to realize that they are not part of the Constitution.

One example of an unwritten constitution is seen in political parties. Although political parties were created at the same time as the Constitution, no rules were placed in the document to govern them. Political parties quickly began to shape politics in America, which created a need for rules and laws to regulate them. Because there was no basis for this in the Constitution, an unwritten constitution was established to help keep political parties in check.

Another example of an unwritten constitution is seen in Congressional committees. Congress is divided into a number of committees in both the House and the Senate because of its large size and the duties each branch performs. Some of the duties it performs include considering legislation and passing bills regarding the military, foreign policy and spending. Despite the important role Congress plays in the running of the government, the majority of the duties it performs are undefined in the Constitution.