HOW READABLE are us state constitutions?


Transparency of law is a critical driver of the Rule of Law. At a fundamental level everyone needs to be able to understand the law.

This is why the Rule of Law analytics team uses data science to measure the readability of the law (using the SMOG index).

In this analysis we focus on US State constitutions.

Use the map below to see how readable each State constitution is.

smog rankings


The SMOG index analyzes text by the number of years of education typically required to be able to understand it.

The table below shows our analysis of all State constitutions by the SMOG index, the associated level of education, and the % of that State’s population who have a high school education. 

Length


It isn’t only the complexity of the text that citizens have to grapple with, it’s the sheer size of the State constitutions.  Almost all State constitutions are at least twice the size of the national constitution (4,543 words).

Alabama’s state constitution is currently 402,852 words in length.   No only is that 88 times longer than the US Constitution, it also has a SMOG rating of 18.3 – which means you require a Post Graduate degree reading level to be reasonably expected to understand the text.

why does this matter?


It matters because  large proportions of cases are filed on a Pro Se basis (where a plaintiff or defendant represents themselves).  To have equal access to justice these plaintiffs or defendants  need to be able to understand the law. If the laws are complex, or the language is hard to understand, then – without access to professional legal counsel – this creates a signifcant impedement to the effective implementation of the Rule of Law. 

To put this into context, in the Federal District Courts, 35% of all cases are filed on a Pro Se basis (and 67% of these pro se cases are filed by prisoners).  This amounts to approximately 70-80,000 cases each year.

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