Constitution of Brazil

During its independent political history, Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

 has had seven constitutions. The most recent was ratified on October 5, 1988.

Imperial Constitution (1824)


Prior to its independence, in September 7, 1822, Brazil had no formal Constitution, since Portugal
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

 only adopted its first Constitution in September 23, 1822, 16 days after Brazilian self proclaimed emancipation.
In the year of 1823, the Emperor Pedro I started the political process of writing a Constitution.

The elaboration of the first Constitution of Brazil was quite difficult and the power struggle involved resulted in a long-lasting unrest that plagued the country for nearly two decades. Two major facts increased the troubles:
  • Large numbers of recent immigrants from Portugal (the so-called "Portuguese Party"), who wanted to keep their privileges or who were still loyal to the metropolitan government. These were found both among the wealthier parts of the population, as businessmen controlling Brazil's international trade, and the lower ones, as tradesmen and free urban workers (the Brazilian élite
    Elite refers to an exceptional or privileged group that wields considerable power within its sphere of influence...

     was mostly rural).
  • The majority of the population was composed of slaves, prompting the whites to fear being massacred in the event of a rebellion caused by a failing state.

The first circumstance meant that despite strong support of the crown prince Pedro I by the Brazilian landowners (the so-called "Brazilian Party"), the opinions of the reinóis (name then given to people fresh from Portugal) should be considered. As each side had very distinct and different objectives none could prevail and a compromise was needed.

There were extra problems involved: the Constitutional Assembly had been elected to decide the applicability of Portuguese laws in Brazil, not to draft a new constitution. As a result, some of the Portuguese deputies refused to take part in it. On the other hand, some of the Brazilian deputies, the "liberal" ones, had been persecuted, some exiled others imprisoned. Thus the Constitutional Assembly did not hear an appreciable number of opinions and would end reflecting the objectives of the "Brazilian Party", to the detriment of the "Portuguese Party" and the liberals.

As the draft constitution progressed it became clear that the deputies were trying to establish a constitution that would:
  • curtail the powers of the monarch,
  • restrict most political rights to landowners and deny them to the Portuguese, and
  • establish an authoritarian, but constitutional monarchy, whose head of government would be the Emperor himself, aided by a group of ministers of his choice.

The emperor wanted to remain an absolute monarch
Absolute monarchy
Absolute monarchy is a monarchical form of government in which the monarch exercises ultimate governing authority as head of state and head of government, his or her power not being limited by a constitution or by the law. An absolute monarch thus wields unrestricted political power over the...

, protect the interests of the Portuguese businessmen (while possibly mending the relationship with Portugal in the meantime) and prevent any form of power transfer from himself to the Parliament
A parliament is a legislature, especially in those countries whose system of government is based on the Westminster system modeled after that of the United Kingdom. The name is derived from the French , the action of parler : a parlement is a discussion. The term came to mean a meeting at which...


In a quite predictable move, and in the light of the wave of conservatism led by the Holy Alliance
Holy Alliance
The Holy Alliance was a coalition of Russia, Austria and Prussia created in 1815 at the behest of Czar Alexander I of Russia, signed by the three powers in Paris on September 26, 1815, in the Congress of Vienna after the defeat of Napoleon.Ostensibly it was to instill the Christian values of...

, the prince used his influence over the Brazilian army
Brazilian Army
The Brazilian Army is the land arm of the Brazilian Military. The Brazilian Army has fought in several international conflicts, mostly in South America and during the 19th century, such as the Brazilian War of Independence , Argentina-Brazil War , War of the Farrapos , Platine War , Uruguayan War ...

 to dissolve the Constitutional Assembly and imposed on the country a constitution that concentrated all powers on the prince himself (eventually crowned "Perpetual Emperor and Protector of Brazil").

The Constitution

The new constitution, published on March 25, 1824 outlined the existence of four powers:
  • Executive
    Executive (government)
    Executive branch of Government is the part of government that has sole authority and responsibility for the daily administration of the state bureaucracy. The division of power into separate branches of government is central to the idea of the separation of powers.In many countries, the term...

     — The State Council
  • Legislative — The General Assembly, formed by the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies
  • Judiciary
    The judiciary is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law in the name of the state. The judiciary also provides a mechanism for the resolution of disputes...

     — The Courts
  • Moderator — Vested in the Emperor, was supposed to resolve any incompatibilities between the other three, acting as a "neutral" power, in accordance to the theories of the Swiss thinker Benjamin Constant
    Benjamin Constant
    Henri-Benjamin Constant de Rebecque was a Swiss-born French nobleman, thinker, writer and politician.-Biography:...


The Emperor controlled the Executive by nominating the members of the State Council, influenced the Legislative by being allowed to propose motions and having the power to dissolve the Chamber of Deputies (senators sat for life, being, however, individually chosen by the emperor between the three most voted candidates in a given province) and also influenced the Judiciary, by appointing (for life) the members of the Highest Court.

This constitution established the Brazilian Empire
Brazilian Empire
The Empire of Brazil was a 19th-century state that broadly comprised the territories which form modern Brazil. Its government was a representative parliamentary constitutional monarchy under the rule of Emperors Dom Pedro I and his son Dom Pedro II, both members of the House of Braganza—a...

 as a Unitary state (the provinces had little autonomy, if any). The Amendment (Ato Adicional) of August 12, 1834, enacted in a period of liberal reform, authorized the provinces to create their own legislative chambers, which were empowered to legislate on financial matters, create taxes and their own corps of civil servants under a chief executive nominated by the central power; it was however revised by an "interpretive" act of May 1840, enacted in a period of conservative reaction, which allowed the central power to appoint judges and police officers in the provinces.

On July 20, 1847, a Decree (number 523) established the post of President of the Council of Ministers (not to be confused with the State Council, whose ten members sat for life and which in the late Empire functioned solely as an advising body to the Emperor) – actually a prime minister
Prime minister
A prime minister is the most senior minister of cabinet in the executive branch of government in a parliamentary system. In many systems, the prime minister selects and may dismiss other members of the cabinet, and allocates posts to members within the government. In most systems, the prime...

 chosen by the emperor, who should choose the members of the cabinet, being supported by a parliamentary majority in the General Assembly. As no act of the Executive was valid without the signature of the minister ("State Secretary") responsible for the issue concerned, the decree turned the Brazilian Empire into a standard constitutional monarchy with a Parliamentary system
Parliamentary system
A parliamentary system is a system of government in which the ministers of the executive branch get their democratic legitimacy from the legislature and are accountable to that body, such that the executive and legislative branches are intertwined....


The franchise was very limited, being censitary and indirect: no male citizen who was not head of a household and/or had a net yearly income of less than a hundred milreis
The mil-réis was effectively a unit of currency in both Portugal and Brazil .The usage of mil-réis as a word dates back to the economic crises of the 19th century, when the currency was devaluated for the first time and most prices reached the thousands.It was replaced in 1911 by the escudo in...

 was allowed to vote in the primary elections that chose actual electors, empowered with the right to vote for the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. This conservative slant - together with widespread electoral frauds - determined that no Prime Minister chosen by the Emperor – who had the power to order the dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies and new elections to it – ever failed to win a parliamentary majority in subsequent elections.
The Constitution of 1824, enacted in the name of the Holy Trinity, also instituted Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 as the state religion
State religion
A state religion is a religious body or creed officially endorsed by the state...

, allowing other religions to be practicised in private: non-Catholic places of worship couldn't be fashioned to appear as religious buildings from the outside. It also excluded slaves from the Brazilian citizenship, by extending it to all people born in the Brazilian territory, if freeborn or freed.

Old Republic Constitution (1891)


In November 15, 1889, the emperor Peter II was deposed, Brazilian monarchy abolished and the 1824 Constitution was put out of effect. No provisional constitution
Provisional constitution
A provisional constitution, interim constitution or transitional constitution is a constitution intended to serve during a transitional period until a permanent constitution is adopted...

 was used while a definitive one was being written. The writing process began in 1889, by a group of jurist
A jurist or jurisconsult is a professional who studies, develops, applies, or otherwise deals with the law. The term is widely used in American English, but in the United Kingdom and many Commonwealth countries it has only historical and specialist usage...

s and politician
A politician, political leader, or political figure is an individual who is involved in influencing public policy and decision making...

s, and the text was later amended by a Constitutional Congress on February 24, 1891.

The Constitution

In its final form, the new Constitution meant to create a lay federal state to promote, above all, individual liberties, following the basic principles of the Constitution of the United States, albeit with the adoption of a slightly different (and somewhat more centralized) form of federalism
Federalism is a political concept in which a group of members are bound together by covenant with a governing representative head. The term "federalism" is also used to describe a system of the government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and...


The main traits of the constitution were:
  • Federalism: the provinces were turned into states whose indissoluble union was taken as forming the Body Politic of the Brazilian Federation. Governors (at the time called State Presidents) were to be elected by direct vote and a fixed term of office.
  • Separation of the State and Churches.
  • Male universal suffrage (with exceptions, mostly illiterates, beggars and members of monastic orders) and basic individual rights for all citizens. Abolition of the death penalty.
  • Adoption of standard three-way separation of powers
    Separation of powers
    The separation of powers, often imprecisely used interchangeably with the trias politica principle, is a model for the governance of a state. The model was first developed in ancient Greece and came into widespread use by the Roman Republic as part of the unmodified Constitution of the Roman Republic...

     under a presidential republic on the American model; direct elections for all members of the Legislative and chief officers of the Executive branch. The Executive branch was headed by a President of the Republic, elected by direct voting (in preference to an Electoral College
    Electoral college
    An electoral college is a set of electors who are selected to elect a candidate to a particular office. Often these represent different organizations or entities, with each organization or entity represented by a particular number of electors or with votes weighted in a particular way...

     on the American model) - who had a four year term and could not be reelected for a second, successive, term - and his freely chosen cabinet of ministers. The Senate was reorganized as the Upper House of the Legislative branch, formed of representatives of the states (as opposed to the representatives of the people in the Chamber of Deputies) directly elected and with fixed terms of office.

Third Constitution (1934)

During the year of 1930, after severe political problemas, the President Washington Luís was overthown by a coup d'etat
Coup d'état
A coup d'état state, literally: strike/blow of state)—also known as a coup, putsch, and overthrow—is the sudden, extrajudicial deposition of a government, usually by a small group of the existing state establishment—typically the military—to replace the deposed government with another body; either...

. The 1891 Constitution was put down and the Provisional President Getúlio Vargas
Getúlio Vargas
Getúlio Dornelles Vargas served as President of Brazil, first as dictator, from 1930 to 1945, and in a democratically elected term from 1951 until his suicide in 1954. Vargas led Brazil for 18 years, the most for any President, and second in Brazilian history to Emperor Pedro II...

 ruled as a de facto personal dictator
A dictator is a ruler who assumes sole and absolute power but without hereditary ascension such as an absolute monarch. When other states call the head of state of a particular state a dictator, that state is called a dictatorship...

, but the state landed elites (who had controlled the Brazilian state ever since independence) struggled to prevent this from continuing. In 1932, in São Paulo
São Paulo (state)
São Paulo is a state in Brazil. It is the major industrial and economic powerhouse of the Brazilian economy. Named after Saint Paul, São Paulo has the largest population, industrial complex, and economic production in the country. It is the richest state in Brazil...

, the Constitutionalist Revolutionan demanded a Constitution. As a result, a Constitutional Assembly was elected and the constitution was promulgated on July 16, 1934, four years after a coup d'état
Coup d'état
A coup d'état state, literally: strike/blow of state)—also known as a coup, putsch, and overthrow—is the sudden, extrajudicial deposition of a government, usually by a small group of the existing state establishment—typically the military—to replace the deposed government with another body; either...

 had overthrown the Old Republic. Vargas accepted this constitution in order to legitimate its power.

The Constitution

It was the shortest-lived Constitution of Brazil, lasting only 3 years (until 1937).

Despite its short life, this constitution was important because it was the first time a Brazilian constitution was written from scratch by directly elected deputies in multi-party elections. As a consequence of this, it incorporated a number of improvements to Brazilian political, social and economical life:
  • Granted complete independence to the Supreme Court and subordinated all other courts to it.
  • Extended political rights to all adults, regardless of sex.
  • Introduced proportional voting for elections to the Chamber of Deputies, which included representatives of the people as well as a minority of representatives from trade unions and other professional organizations - a corporatist device introduced under the shock of the Russian Revolution and the influence of Italian fascism.
  • Created a specific electoral court to supervise elections, under the control of the Supreme Court (previouly the supervision of elections was under control of the Legislative).
  • Following a trend set by the German Weimar Constitution
    Weimar constitution
    The Constitution of the German Reich , usually known as the Weimar Constitution was the constitution that governed Germany during the Weimar Republic...

    , acknowledged a whole host of social rights
    Social rights
    Economic, social and cultural rights are socio-economic human rights, such as the right to education, right to housing, right to adequate standard of living and the right to health. Economic, social and cultural rights are recognised and protected in international and regional human rights...

     alongside political and civil ones: the national minimum wage
    Minimum wage
    A minimum wage is the lowest hourly, daily or monthly remuneration that employers may legally pay to workers. Equivalently, it is the lowest wage at which workers may sell their labour. Although minimum wage laws are in effect in a great many jurisdictions, there are differences of opinion about...

    , the eight-hour workday, mandatory weekly rest, paid vacations and ideminity for unmotivated firing.
  • Created a labor court
    Labor court
    A labor court is a governmental judiciary body which rules on labor or employment-related matters and disputes. In a number of countries, labor cases are often taken to separate national labor high courts...

     to supervise working conditions and codified rights and duties for both the employers and the employees.
  • Was the first Brazilian constitution to list all four basic freedoms (speech
    Freedom of speech
    Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without censorship. The term freedom of expression is sometimes used synonymously, but includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used...

    , religion
    Freedom of religion
    Freedom of religion is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance; the concept is generally recognized also to include the freedom to change religion or not to follow any...

    , movement
    Freedom of movement
    Freedom of movement, mobility rights or the right to travel is a human right concept that the constitutions of numerous states respect...

     and assembly
    Freedom of assembly
    Freedom of assembly, sometimes used interchangeably with the freedom of association, is the individual right to come together and collectively express, promote, pursue and defend common interests...

    ) alongside the basic rights (life
    Right to life
    Right to life is a phrase that describes the belief that a human being has an essential right to live, particularly that a human being has the right not to be killed by another human being...

    , freedom and property
    Right to property
    The right to property, also known as the right to protection of property, is a human right and is understood to establish an entitlement to private property...


"Estado Novo" Constitution (1937)


On the night of November 10, 1937; Vargas announced in a nationwide radio address that he was seizing emergency powers under the pretext of suppressing a Communist-backed coup (the so-called Plano Cohen). On the same night, he promulgated a new constitution that effectively transformed his presidency into a legal dictatorship (the short interval suggesting that the self-coup
A self-coup or autocoup is a form of coup d'état that occurs when a country's leader, who has come to power through legal means, dissolves or renders powerless the national legislature and assumes extraordinary powers not granted under normal circumstances. Other measures taken may include...

 had been planned well in advance). It was written by the minister of Justice, Francisco Campos, and proofread by Vargas and his minister of War (joint-commander of the Army and Air Force), Eurico Gaspar Dutra
Eurico Gaspar Dutra
Eurico Gaspar Dutra , was a Brazilian marshal, politician and president of Brazil from 1946–1951.He was born in Cuiabá, Mato Grosso, and like many other Brazilians, was from Azorean-Portuguese origin...


The Constitution

The new document was called the "Polaca", or Polish
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

, Constitution because it was inspired by the Polish April Constitution of 1935. It was intended to consolidate the powers of the president, while substantially limiting the powers and autonomy of Congress and the judiciary. While clearly dictatorial, it was not intended to be completely totalitarian and repressive. It kept most social improvements of the previous constitution, and added more: The right to education
Right to education
The right to education is a universal entitlement to education, a right that is recognized as a human right. According to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights the right to education includes the right to free, compulsory primary education for all, an obligation to...

, the right to culture preservation and guidelines for family rights, building on the Civil Code
Civil code
A civil code is a systematic collection of laws designed to comprehensively deal with the core areas of private law. A jurisdiction that has a civil code generally also has a code of civil procedure...

 of 1917.

On the other side, however, it heavily concentrated executive power:
  • Political parties were dissolved.
  • State "presidents" (elected) would be replaced by "interventors" (appointed by the president of the republic).
  • Mayors would in their turn be appointed by the interventors.
  • Capital punishment
    Capital punishment
    Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

     was to be enforced on traitors to the state (a fairly broad category).
  • All requirements for an outright dictatorship (censorship
    thumb|[[Book burning]] following the [[1973 Chilean coup d'état|1973 coup]] that installed the [[Military government of Chile |Pinochet regime]] in Chile...

    , purge
    In history, religion, and political science, a purge is the removal of people who are considered undesirable by those in power from a government, from another organization, or from society as a whole. Purges can be peaceful or violent; many will end with the imprisonment or exile of those purged,...

    s, militarism
    Militarism is defined as: the belief or desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests....

    , state propaganda
    Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group....

    , cult of personality
    Cult of personality
    A cult of personality arises when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods, to create an idealized and heroic public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. Cults of personality are usually associated with dictatorships...

     and others) were either required, allowed or not forbidden by the constitution.

Fifth Constitution (1946)


When Vargas
Getúlio Vargas
Getúlio Dornelles Vargas served as President of Brazil, first as dictator, from 1930 to 1945, and in a democratically elected term from 1951 until his suicide in 1954. Vargas led Brazil for 18 years, the most for any President, and second in Brazilian history to Emperor Pedro II...

 was forced to resign in 1945, a new constitution was written, once again by a directly elected Constitutional Congress.

The Constitution

This was the first Brazilian constitution to provide full political freedom (even the Brazilian Communist Party
Brazilian Communist Party
Brazilian Communist Party is the oldest political party still active in Brazil, founded in 1922, and one of the only Brazilian parties with a Stalinist orientation...

 was made legal, though briefly) and the last to officially name the country Estados Unidos do Brazil (and the spelling of the country's name would change later that year). It was also the first with an additional "Act of Transitory Measures" (a set of laws that came into effect before the constitution itself and could not be changed).
The key points of this constitution were:
  • Restore all rights and freedoms as expressed by the 1934 Constitution which had been suppressed in 1937.
  • Reducing the powers of the presidency; while it remained the key institution, safeguards were put in place to prevent another president from abusing his power as Vargas had done.
  • Establish full equality before the law.
  • Created mechanisms to prevent and fight religious prejudice and censorship (the latter with some exceptions regarding moral censorship of spectacles and public shows).
  • Mentioned the right to postal privacy and the inviolability of homes (until then police could break into anyone's house without a permit).
  • Improved federalism
    Federalism is a political concept in which a group of members are bound together by covenant with a governing representative head. The term "federalism" is also used to describe a system of the government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and...

     by extending the powers of the member states (for instance, it was the first time states were allowed to have flag
    A flag is a piece of fabric with a distinctive design that is usually rectangular and used as a symbol, as a signaling device, or decoration. The term flag is also used to refer to the graphic design employed by a flag, or to its depiction in another medium.The first flags were used to assist...

    s and anthem
    The term anthem means either a specific form of Anglican church music , or more generally, a song of celebration, usually acting as a symbol for a distinct group of people, as in the term "national anthem" or "sports anthem".-Etymology:The word is derived from the Greek via Old English , a word...

  • Although it was not the first time all adults were granted full political rights, it was under this constitutional that the first free (and quite fair) elections were held at all levels and for all offices.
  • Elections for executive offices would be held in a single turn.
  • Voters could freely choose candidates of whatever party, including for vice president
    Vice president
    A vice president is an officer in government or business who is below a president in rank. The name comes from the Latin vice meaning 'in place of'. In some countries, the vice president is called the deputy president...

     and vice governor.

The last two would become the major problems of this constitution, as they were prone to produce and fuel both legitimacy crises (as the presidents were usually elected by less than the majority of the votes) and conspiracies (as the vice-president was usually from another party).

Sixth Constitution (1967)


After the military coup d'état of April 1st 1964 the controllers of the new régime kept the 1946 constitution and promised to restore democracy as soon as possible. However, they eventually did not and were faced with a dilemma, as every measure they took was strictly against the current constitution, including the coup itself.

The so-called Institutional Acts sequentially issued by the military presidents were, in practice, placed higher than the Constitution and could amend it. Even under these circumstances,, the first military president, Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco
Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco
Marshal Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco was a Brazilian military leader and politician.He was President of Brazil, as a military dictator, after the 1964 coup d'etat...

, was committed to restoring civilian rule in 1966. However, a large number of military and civilian extremists felt the military had to stay in power for some years. They also wanted to pass more "proper" laws to fight subversive individuals (anyone that opposed the régime).

By 1965, however, the situation reached an unbearable point when opposition candidates won the governorships of Minas Gerais
Minas Gerais
Minas Gerais is one of the 26 states of Brazil, of which it is the second most populous, the third richest, and the fourth largest in area. Minas Gerais is the Brazilian state with the largest number of Presidents of Brazil, the current one, Dilma Rousseff, being one of them. The capital is the...

 and Guanabara. Castelo Branco refused to annul the results. A coup was only averted when Castelo Branco agreed to support the military's reform program. By this time, the military had decided to drop all pretense of democracy. It also felt the 1946 constitution was "obsolete" as the "new institutions" were not foreseen in it.

A new constitution was written by a team of lawyers commissioned by Castelo Branco and amended (under the instructions of Castelo Branco himself) by the minister of Justice, Carlos Medeiros Silva and voted as whole by the Brazilian Parliament
National Congress of Brazil
The National Congress of Brazil is the legislative body of Brazil's federal government.Unlike regional legislative bodies – Legislative Assemblies and City Councils -, the Congress is bicameral, composed of the Federal Senate and the Chamber of Deputies .The Senate represents the 26 states and...

 (already purged of most opponents of the status quo
Status quo
Statu quo, a commonly used form of the original Latin "statu quo" – literally "the state in which" – is a Latin term meaning the current or existing state of affairs. To maintain the status quo is to keep the things the way they presently are...


The Original Constitution

The main features of the new Constitution were:
  • Restriction of political rights: direct elections would only be held at state and county level, but not in federal territories or cities considered as of interest of national security for whatever reason (such cities were specified as those lying by the international border, state capitals, "important" industrial centres, university towns, jungle towns, towns close to power plants, mining sites, etc.). About 500 cities/towns were listed, the largest and most important ones. Presidents and governors were chosen in indirect elections by the correspondent Legislative branch (the National Congress and State Legislatures). However, these "elections" were elaborate shams. The federal and state legislatures were dominated by government supporters, meaning the government candidate could not possibly be defeated.
  • Restriction of civil rights: any meeting, assembly or gathering of people should be formal, must be previously authorised and conducted under supervision. Unauthorised meetings would be disbanded by the police and participants sued (if lucky; they were more likely imprisoned, tortured or worse).
  • Military (uniformed) State Police Corps acknowledged as reserve corps of the Federal Army (as well as State Fire Brigades), with the task of outdoor patrolling to "provide public security", thereby reducing the autonomy of the existing civilian (plainclothes) police, reduced to an investigative role.
  • Removal of all privileges of judges, allowing the president to force them to retire or to remove them (the latter never used).
  • After previously disbanding of all political parties (which had existed for only twenty years), creation of tight controls on the formation of parties, allowing for a bipartisan system comprising the official party, Aliança Renovadora Nacional – Arena (National Renovating Alliance), and the controlled opposition of the Movimento Democrático Brasileiro – MDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement).
  • Limitation of federated states' autonomy.
  • Establishment of a series of controls, commissions and institutions to regulate and report a number of aspects of civil, social and economic life, thus intensifying an already existing trend towards bureaucracy
    A bureaucracy is an organization of non-elected officials of a governmental or organization who implement the rules, laws, and functions of their institution, and are occasionally characterized by officialism and red tape.-Weberian bureaucracy:...

    , top-heavy management of the economy by the central government.
  • Granting the president the right to issue decrees (Decretos-Lei) that would enter in force at the moment of their publication and be inscribed in the statute-book after 30 days in the absence of Congressional deliberation on them.

Amendment of 1969

In 1969, this already severely authoritarian document was widely amended by a provisional military junta
Brazilian Military Junta
A Military Junta or Junta Militar ruled Brazil from August 31 to October 30, 1969, between the sudden illness of President Artur da Costa e Silva and the swearing-in of Emílio Garrastazu Médici as his successor....

 and made even more repressive.
The 1969 Amendment is sometimes regarded as a seventh Constitution, because it in fact rewrote the hole constitutional text.
The new constitutional text brought some extra tools for the régime:
  • State of emergency.
  • Capital punishment.
  • Banishment - with loss of citizenship - as punishment.
  • Suspension of habeas corpus
    Habeas corpus
    is a writ, or legal action, through which a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention. The remedy can be sought by the prisoner or by another person coming to his aid. Habeas corpus originated in the English legal system, but it is now available in many nations...

  • Special military courts to try members of the military accused of crimes.
  • Transfer of command of the military polices from each federal state to the Ministry of the Army.
  • Restrictions on travel.

From 1979 onward, however, the constitution was gradually purged of its authoritarian character. This process accelerated with the return of civilian rule in 1985, culminating in the adoption of a new constitution in 1988.

Citizen Constitution (1988 - present)


The seventh and current Brazilian Constitution was promulgated on October 5, 1988 after a two-year process in which it was written from scratch by a Constitutional Congress elected in 1986.

The Constitution

It appears as a reaction to the period of military dictatorship
Military dictatorship
A military dictatorship is a form of government where in the political power resides with the military. It is similar but not identical to a stratocracy, a state ruled directly by the military....

, seeking to guarantee all manner of rights and restricting the state's ability to limit freedom, to punish offences and to regulate individual life. On the other hand, it did not provide clear rules for state reform and kept the economic regulation of the country intact.

Among the new constitutional guarantees are the errand of injunction and the habeas data (one's right to have access to any data about him kept by the Government). It also anticipated the existence of a Consumers' Defence Code (which was brought out in 1990), of Children's and Youth Code (1995) and of a new Civil Code (2002).

It was the first constitution to demand severe punishment for breaches of civil liberties and rights. Consequently Brazil later approved a law making the propagation of prejudice against any minority or ethnic group an unbailable crime. This law provided legal redress against those who spread hate speech (like Neo-Nazis) or those who do not treat all citizens equally. This second aspect helped disabled people to have a reserved percentage of jobs in the public service (and soon in all large companies), and black people to seek reparation for prejudice in the courts.

Breaking with the authoritarian logic of the Constitution of 1967, it made unbailable crimes those of torture and of actions directed against the democratic state and the constitutional order, thus creating constitutional devices to block coups d'état of any kind.

Willing to create a truly democratic State, the Constitution has established many forms of direct popular participation besides regular voting, such as plebiscite, referendum
A referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. This may result in the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment, a law, the recall of an elected official or simply a specific government policy. It is a form of...

 and the possibility of ordinary citizens proposing new laws. Examples of these democratic mechanisms were the 1993 plebiscite concerning the form of government, where the Presidential system
Presidential system
A presidential system is a system of government where an executive branch exists and presides separately from the legislature, to which it is not responsible and which cannot, in normal circumstances, dismiss it....

 was confirmed, and the 2005 Referendum concerning the prohibition of the sale of firearms and ammunition
Referendum concerning the prohibition of the sale of firearms and ammunition
On October 23, 2005, Brazil held a country-wide referendum on article 35 of the Disarmament Statute to determine whether to approve or disapprove the article, which states in full, "The sale of firearms and ammunition is prohibited in the entire national territory, except to those entities provided...


The mention of God in the preamble of the Constitution (and later on the Brazilian currency) was opposed by most leftists as incompatible with freedom of religion because it does not recognise the rights of polytheists (like the Amerindians) or atheists, but it has not been removed so far. The only State Constitution that does not refer to God is the one of Acre
Acre (state)
Acre is one of the 27 states of Brazil. It is situated in the southwest of the Northern Region, bordering Amazonas to the north, Rondônia to the east, Bolivia to the southeast and the Ucayali Region of Peru to the south and west. It occupies an area of 152,581.4 km2, being slightly smaller...

. The Supreme Federal Court has ruled that that this omission of the protection of God was not unconstitutional
Constitutionality is the condition of acting in accordance with an applicable constitution. Acts that are not in accordance with the rules laid down in the constitution are deemed to be ultra vires.-See also:*ultra vires*Company law*Constitutional law...

since the preamble of the constitution is simply an indication of principles that serves as an introduction to the constitutional text and reflects the ideological conceptions of the legislator, falling within the scope of political ideology and not of the Law. Therefore, the preamble which is not actually a part of the supreme law, has no judicial validity whatsoever and cannot impose obligations or create rights.


Despite its advances concerning individual rights and freedoms and also in government control, the Constitutional text brought dispositions that resulted in severe difficulties concerning governmental efficiency. In the following years, especially from 1995 onwards, this it had to be amended many times to get rid of umpractical, contradictory or unclear provisions (but also to accommodate the economic reforms conducted by the government, for which such amendments have been sometimes criticised). As of December 2010 this Constitution has been amended 67 times.

External links

Original text of the 1988 Constitution in Portuguese, with all amendments. Constitution in the unofficial Spanish translation Constitution in English, with amendments. Constitution of the United States of Brazil : together with the accompanying transitory provisions. 1946
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