Your take: Updating the Constitution
We asked a provocative question earlier this week about the U.S. Constitution. Should we rewrite it? Or further amend it? And if so, what would you include in the new constitution or amendments?
Y’all had some varied opinions. What follows is the overview and a sampling of diverse viewpoints.
By and large, there was considerably more support for amending the Constitution than rewriting it. One of our colleagues noted that the Constitution itself was designed to be amended. Another reader noted that the difficulty of passing amendments is to guard against “temporal generation priorities.” In other words, to protect our governance structure from mob rule.
The most popular recommended amendments amongst our readers were:
- Elimination of the Electoral College and allowance of the popular vote to decide elections.
- Amending the Second Amendment – by banning weapons of war for private use or repealing it.
- Addressing campaign finance, lobbying and the outsized influence of corporate and the ultra wealthy to level the playing field for everyday Americans.
There was modest support for another set of possible amendments:
- Some protection for human rights, including shelter, food, education, etc. There were also strong arguments against this concept.
- Judicial and Supreme Court reform, including term limits and recusal rules.
- Term limits for Congress.
- Protecting voting rights for all citizens.
Less often mentioned were favorites of the electoral reform movement:
- Ranked-choice voting.
- Revising the primary system.
- Redistricting or anti-gerrymandering.
- Senate reform to disallow the unequal distribution of representation.
- Increasing the size of the House of Representatives.
- Ending the filibuster.
There were a lot of additional ideas that we present as they may be the seeds we talk about in the next few years.
- Specify that corporations do not have the same rights as people.
- Limit executive power.
- National divorce.
- Pass the Equal Rights Amendment.
- Revise the amendment process to two-thirds of states.
- Include citizens of Washington, D.C., and the territories as full U.S. citizens.
- Citizen assembly/jury system for elected representatives to follow.
- Mandatory voting.
Here are a few samples of your responses, editing for length and clarity:
It is time for a serious look at the current way we are being governed and have a go at changing what has become a somewhat strangled situation in a number of the ways our three-part governing structure is now (not) working. Our legislature and legislators – the selection process needs to be redone from primaries where a relatively few special interests/tribes get to select candidates and potential voters get fewer and fewer protections. Term limits should be considered and the seniority system is antiquated and should be changed. The Supreme Court structure and terms need to be revised with standards, term limits and perhaps a revision in the way justices are selected and confirmed. And, for a real study and possibility, the creation of a parliamentary system ought to be put on the table.
Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter
I think the Constitution could benefit from a review. However, I am not sure I would trust the recommendations nor changes if they in any way would be tied to political benefits as is now happening in the Supreme Court. Because I think because this country is too politically divisive now to engage in this process, I would hold off.
-Heather E. Halperin
I have been thinking a lot about the concept of "private property." Specifically how private property is a ridiculous concept to a toddler, and how possessiveness doesn't really serve us. How our neighborhood has a group mentality of home-care and maintenance. And also thinking about indigenous communities and colonialism and all that.
Kaia Los Huertos Malham
I agree it should be amended to codify personal rights as strongly as property rights. The Second Amendment also needs to be modernized and clarified. It is either too ambiguous, open to too much interpretation, too out of date or some combination thereof.
I think a constitutional convention is a bad idea at this point in our history. We are simply too divided as a country politically. I feel that compromise and substantive debate are too difficult these days to open discussions for something as important as a foundational document. There is simply a lack of a common goal right now. Unlike during the original constitutional convention where self actualization and self governance were the overarching goals that framed every discussion. I'm afraid if a constitutional convention were held now any substantive progress would be lost in political noise, posturing, and non-scientific based arguments.
Does our Constitution need to be amended to reflect who we are today? Yes. Should we use a constitutional convention to make those changes? No. Should we use the amendment process outlined in the Constitution? Yes. But first repair our collective wounded belief in civil discourse that leads to a tyranny of the baddest. Remove the access of monied interests that corrupt our political process and changes will be made.
Yes, I think we should overhaul the Constitution to better define it and consequences for violating it since both parties are currently violating the prohibition against allowing business to influence policy and separation of church and state. I also don't think you can get us all to agree on the changes. We probably should separate, just like a married couple when one or both becomes dangerous to the other. Let the theocrats have part of the country and those who wish human rights have the other. Right now neither side cares about human rights.
I believe that it should be amended because it mostly works! Here are what I'd want amendments to do:
1. Abolish the Electoral College.
2. An amendment that creates an absolute right to vote that says neither the state nor individuals can infringe upon a citizen's right to vote and that the right can't be revoked unless someone renounces their citizenship.
3. Reapportion the Senate to limit the disparities in representation between more and less densely populated states.
4. An amendment that limits the ability for money to influence politics.
5. A revised equal protection clause/equal rights amendment that says everyone has equal rights under the law with laws not being allowed to discriminate or create a negative disparate impact on historically marginalized people across race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, status as a veteran, status as an individual with a disability and any other characteristics.
6. An amendment that creates more checks and balances on the executive and undoes some of the expansion of executive power that has happened since our founding
I think with these 6 amendments we could have a Constitution for the 21st century. It would improve representation, create a more responsive government, ensure that the government not only doesn't discriminate as a matter of law but also doesn't have laws that allow for disparate impact on marginalized people, and create more balance among the branches of government and limit the damage a president with authoritarian tendencies could do.
A right must end when it conflicts with the rights of others. You cannot have a right to housing, food, etc., because those "rights” would violate the agency and rights of others by forcing them to work to provide those commodities, getting nothing in exchange. When you say you want "human rights” you are implicitly saying you will abolish property rights and individual agency. You cannot have both, and if you think you can, please describe what principle would limit human rights from extending into natural rights. If you take what one person has earned by force and give it to someone else you have violated that person's rights. You have enabled free riding on the effort of de facto slaves; individuals indentured to serve by the simple fact that they produce.
A constitutional convention is both an exciting and terrifying prospect, opening the door to progress or regress. The first thing that comes to mind is to extend the Bill of Rights with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s "Second Bill of Rights" proposal. And add a bunch of democracy reforms like ending gerrymandering, getting big money out of politics, and maybe eliminating the Electoral College. The biggest concern would be a fair and open process that would result in good sensemaking and amendments that would reflect the better angels of the American people.
I would remove the Electoral College as a metric for the election of the president. It has too often proved manipulable by politicians acting in bad faith, and diminishes some voters' votes in comparison with others. Someone in Wyoming should not have more say than I (relatively) on who the next president will be. Direct election is, if not ”fairer” by a mathematical metric, demonstrably fairer than what exists now.
I would remove the filibuster in the Senate. If ever a tool worked for antidemocratic aims, it is the filibuster; a mere 40 senators can thus tyrannize over a majority of 60 this way.
I would put term limits on the judiciary (10 to 20 years), and put their election at least somewhat more in the hands of the people, as well as putting more requirements on those who can serve. The judiciary has become a partisan nightmare, and regardless of whether one side wins or loses in the short run, in the long run confidence in the judiciary is diminished and people trust the legal system less.
I would also put a provision in specifically forbidding lobbying, and requiring the establishment of a public fund where those running for office may draw monies to run their own campaigns for elections. As well, I would forbid campaign donations of over $10,000 per individual per candidate, and would entirely forbid businesses or special-interest groups from donating. This, I think, would significantly lessen influential donors, and would require campaigns to run on the strength of their message, rather than their pocketbooks. (While this might be considered a violation of a business's free speech under current legal precedents, I take issue with Citizens United v. FEC, and so do not regard that decision in this overhaul).
As well, I would require states to revamp their voting systems within 10 years of ratification. The current voting system (first past the post, or simple majority) encourages the development of the two-party system and needs to be replaced with, at the very least, a ranked-choice voting method, which would at minimum eliminate the spoiler effect from voting.
Not being a U.S. citizen, even though I have lived in the United States for over 30 years now, it feels a little disingenuous to respond to your request for constitutional changes. Nonetheless, here goes:
1) A change that allows a simple majority of voters to add an explicit right to the Bill of Rghts. This bullshit of a short list of enumerated rights only with the rest of the rights being inferred has to stop.
2) Abolish the Second Amendment as written; grammar fixes are acceptable.
3) The number of senators from each state cannot remain a simple fixed number. It needs to be tied to something else. Perhaps economic output?