Constitution Day conversation with Jamie Raskin: Preserving democracy today and tomorrow
Raskin is a U.S. Representative for the state of Maryland.
In his interview with Fulcrum Contributor Rick LaRue, excerpted below, Representative Jamie Raskin (MD-08) reminds us of the need to look ahead while highlighting the Constitution's anchoring role in today's electoral drama. Constitution Day, September 17, kicked off Constitution Week.
On this Constitution Day, 2023, when we confront immediate threats to our democracy, why is it important to keep the Constitution on our radar screen?
The American people face continuous, vehement and sometimes violent efforts by a significant political faction to trample and bypass the Constitution. As Donald Trumphas put it in his unceasing efforts to overthrow the 2020 presidential election, “A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.”
The Constitution does not belong to any president or the Supreme Court but to the people, and we must save it from all authoritarianism set loose in the land. Eternal vigilance is still the price of liberty.
What do you envision as you contemplate the 250th anniversaries of the Declaration of Independence in 2026 and the Constitution in 2037?
The Declaration set forth the animating principles of equality, freedom and democratic self-government, ushering in an age of constitutional democracy and the sovereign rights of the people.
The 250th anniversary of the Constitution should be not only about defending our essential constitutional order, but also about amending the Constitution to keep democracy vibrant and growing in this century.
The real question for the big anniversary in 2026 is not about the past but about the future. What constitutional changes do we need to make to keep democracy growing and strong?
You have long opposed the Electoral College. How do you think we should abolish it?
The Electoral College is one of the obsolete anti-majoritarian filters still hanging on in our Constitution. It … has overthrown the people’s choice for president five times in our history, twice in this century alone, and today its odd nooks and crannies can actually get you killed.
It’s time to adopt the National Popular Vote initiative to move to a popular, ranked choice vote for president. In Maryland back in 2007, we passed the first law adopting the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. The compact is simple: it sets up a mechanism whereby states agree to allocate their electors to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote rather than their state’s popular vote. Once we see the new system working in practice, I feel certain we will amend the Constitution to adopt the system formally. Most constitutional amendments have come into existence this way—before the 19th Amendment was enacted in 1920, a majority of states had acted on their own to enfranchise women.
What revisions to the Constitution rise to the top of your need-to-be-changed list?
The Equal Rights Amendment, obviously. I also believe that we must get rid of unaccountable dark money in our politics and reverse the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision. I have cosponsored legislation to establish the Democracy For All Amendment, which would cut off the pipeline between corporate and super-wealthy donor dollars and political power and governmental influence. It is time to formally elevate democracy over plutocracy in our Constitution, something hinted at in the 24th Amendment banning poll taxes in federal elections.
We also should build a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right of every citizen to vote. Right now, we do not have a universal, guaranteed right to vote—instead, we are working from a patchwork of ad hoc anti discrimination amendments to try and defend the foundation of our democracy.
[And] take the Second Amendment.… It does not give the people the insurrectionary right to overthrow the government if it turns tyrannical…. Far from making violent insurrection an individual or collective right, the entire architecture of our structural Constitution is designed to oppose and defeat violent insurrection….[continued].
How can we overcome partisan or special interests resisting such change?
As the philosopher John Dewey said, “the only solution to the ills of democracy is more democracy.” The problem that we face today is not democracy but the impediments to democracy. Our greatest challenge is thus to harness the remarkable power of American citizens, coming together in a nonpartisan spirit of solidarity and common sense, to overcome big corporate money and power. Polls show the vast majority of Americans favor a constitutional right to vote, direct election of the president, and the Equal Rights Amendment. They’re not partisan in nature.
The 250th anniversary of the Constitution may be 14 years away, but throughout our history we have gone decades without amendments. Can we celebrate this major anniversary of the document by repairing it?
I certainly hope so and will work to see that the Constitution continues to evolve to meet our circumstances. The vast majority of the Amendments we have added since the original ten in the Bill of Rights have been suffrage-expanding and democracy-strengthening amendments. Let’s keep the wheels of strong democracy turning.
Any last word about what else we can all do to make September 17th a more consequential day in our civic lives?
Read the Constitution and give a little speech about something you found there to some young people near you! Be sure to find the ban on presidents and other federal officials receiving presents, emoluments, offices and titles “of any kind whatever” from kings, princes and foreign states without the consent of Congress. This is what Donald Trump calls the “phony Emoluments Clause”!
The Constitution is your principal weapon of intellectual self-defense against the daily rampages of autocrats, kleptocrats, plutocrats and theocrats. Don’t leave home without it. Keep it close to your heart.
Happy Constitution Day.
To review the complete Q&A vist here.