How would you change the Constitution?
Sept. 10, 2012
Constitution Day on Sept. 17 marks the 225th anniversary of the signing of our nation’s founding document. The core of this remarkable document has endured with only 27 amendments passed in that time.
According to University of Chicago law professor Tom Ginsburg, who has studied and written about constitutions around the world, “Most constitutions die at a very young age and are replaced often. They are, it turns out, very fragile things.” The average life of a constitution? Nineteen years, according to his research.
Why has the U.S. Constitution proved to be so durable? It’s not because of its relatively short length, or broad principles, as many Americans think. Ginsburg’s research has found that more detailed constitutions are more successful, such as the Indian constitution of 1950, the world’s longest at 117,000 words, which is 25 times the length of the U.S. Constitution.
Governments sometimes will go back and revise their founding documents, updating them to fit in with a changing society. After an economic crisis in 2008, Iceland decided to start fresh with a new constitution. (Its previous one was written in 1944.) And, in a novel move, the document was created with ideas and suggestions solicited through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. A Constitutional Council looked at all the ideas and basically drafted the document on the Internet. It was accepted by the Icelandic parliament in 2011.
In the United States, the Constitution has been amended when the government and the people recognized a widespread problem or because of a movement for change. It’s not an easy process. Usually, an amendment is proposed in Congress and must be approved by two-thirds of the House and Senate. Then legislatures in three-fourths of the states must sign off on it. Congress has passed 23 amendments since the Bill of Rights and only 17 have been ratified.
Among other things, these amendments have:
• guaranteed our freedom of speech (First Amendment)
• protected us from unreasonable search and seizures (Fourth Amendment)
• abolished slavery (13th Amendment)
• granted women the right to vote (19th Amendment)
• set term limits for the presidency (22nd Amendment)
Recently, the New York Times asked scholars: If the U.S. Constitution were being written today, what would you omit, add or clarify? Their ideas included allowing naturalized citizens to become president (Article II, Section ); imposing term limits on federal judges (Article III, Section 1); clarifying what is “cruel and unusual punishment” (Eighth Amendment); and even making it easier to amend the Constitution (Article V).
What do you think?
Why do you think the Constitution has endured? Would you change any of the Constitution’s articles or amendments? Would you take out any? What do you think of the process of amending the Constitution? What do you think the next constitutional amendment should be? What do you think about using social media to change the Constitution? Join the discussion!
Join the Discussion