Front Page Titles (by Subject) Note VII: THE MEANING OF AN UNCONSTITUTIONAL LAW - Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (LF ed.)
Note VII: THE MEANING OF AN “UNCONSTITUTIONAL” LAW - Albert Venn Dicey, Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (LF ed.) 
Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution, ed. Roger E. Michener (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1982).
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THE MEANING OF AN
The expression “unconstitutional” has, as applied to a law, at least three different meanings varying according to the nature of the constitution with reference to which it is used:
- 1.The expression, as applied to an English Act of Parliament, means simply that the Act in question, as, for instance, the Irish Church Act, 1869, is, in the opinion of the speaker, opposed to the spirit of the English constitution; it cannot mean that the Act is either a breach of law or is void.
- 2.The expression, as applied to a law passed by the French Parliament, means that the law, e.g. extending the length of the President's tenure of office, is opposed to the articles of the constitution. The expression does not necessarily mean that the law in question is void, for it is by no means certain that any French Court will refuse to enforce a law because it is unconstitutional. The word would probably, though not of necessity, be, when employed by a Frenchman, a term of censure.
- 3.The expression, as applied to an Act of Congress, means simply that the Act is one beyond the power of Congress, and is therefore void. The word does not in this case necessarily import any censure whatever. An American might, without any inconsistency, say that an Act of Congress was a good law, that is, a law calculated in his opinion to benefit the country, but that unfortunately it was “unconstitutional,” that is to say, ultra vires and void.