Guest op-ed: Should we amend the Constitution?
An important question lurking in the background today is whether we need a Constitutional Convention to fix large problems that have popped up in recent decades. If we fix things in the Constitution, then nobody can make a law to change them, because things in the Constitution are set in stone. That is very appealing to a lot of folks who are tired of the constant bickering over issues and flip-flopping of policies from one president to another.
But on the other hand, many of those in long-term power today (congresspersons, presidents and judges) would prefer to keep things just the way they are, because they want to keep making incremental changes (precedents) in the constitutional law without all the effort of a convention. They do this by hiding things in lengthy legislation, making executive orders and rulemaking, and undertaking judicial review. The people don’t even figure out the changes until much later. If a convention is called, powerful folks might get their wings clipped!
In defense of public officials, some who want reasonable updates to our foundational law think the founders made it too hard to make amendments. The founders weren’t forward thinking enough to facilitate needed changes along the way to a glorious future. It takes thousands of organizers, years of hard work and supermajorities of voters to make a constitutional amendment.
In fact, it was exactly because the founders were so forward thinking that they made the document so hard to change. Constitution-writers of the ancient, misty past did a very similar thing. One writer of an early constitution in Greece, Solon, declared that the document was not to be disturbed for at least a hundred years. Moses, the chief constitution writer in early Israel, said that the document, by decree from God, could or should never be changed.
The reason for asking the people to hold onto the document for dear life is that founders of democracies want their people to always be able to give their consent to the laws that govern them. Founders of democracies know the forces on the nation to move to monarchy and tyranny will always be extremely pressing. In fact, monarchies throughout time regularly make the claim that it is monarchy, and not democracy, that is God’s favored system of government. God wants the people to be subject to the king’s every wish and will. It turns out that when the middle class and the poor fall far enough into ignorance, they are willing to accept this philosophy of kingship, as long as their rulers provide them food, housing and entertainment in between the king’s wars.
So, in order to prevent monarchy, perhaps changing the basic processes of democratic government was made hard on purpose. On the other hand, maybe some amendments might be needed just as surely to preserve democracy. Here are a few categories of proposed amendments taken from the past, right on up to today. You be the judge whether we need any of them or not.
In America, there have been proposed amendments in the past to ban dueling, ban public money in support of religion, forbid interracial marriage, forbid polygamy, enshrine the right to prayer in school, prohibit flag burning and extend House terms to four years.
A few others closer to modern hearts include reigning in the President’s treaty-making power, forbidding same-sex marriages, changing the electoral college, limiting foreign alliances, ending riders (unrelated measures) on legislation, passing a balanced budget amendment, repealing the Sixteenth Amendment (which allows a federal income tax), repealing the Seventeenth Amendment (which shifted election of national Senators to popular vote instead of by state legislatures) and ending birthright citizenship for children of foreign nationals (whereby kids of illegals are automatically made citizens).
There has been or is some serious heat behind proposals like the Equal Rights Amendment for women, Right to Life, prohibiting undue burden of proof of identification for voters, limiting the Supreme Court to nine justices so there can be no “court packing,” and enacting campaign financing reform to overturn the Citizens United decision allowing unlimited corporate financing of elections.
Some recent proposals include the right to unionize, prohibition of involuntary labor and commitment to peace. Perhaps the most pressing, in view of 21st century politics, is a proposal to place a term limit on members of Congress. A similar limit was placed on the presidency in the 1950s, after Franklin Roosevelt was elected to four terms of office.
Robert Kimball Shinkoskey is a retired state government worker who writes about current events from a historical perspective.