Some plausible future Constitutional Amendments
Over the Thanksgiving holiday I was watching the interesting and amazingly well-acted film Lincoln, which is about Lincoln’s efforts to garner enough votes to pass the 13th amendment banning slavery. I wondered whether in today’s partisan world whether or not it is foreseeable that the Constitution will ever be amended again.
Many amendments are submitted each year by Congressional representatives (if you remember your social studies class, an amendment needs 2/3 of both chambers of Congress and 3/4 of the state legislatures to pass), but few are ever voted upon. The last Amendment that came close to ratification was the “Flag Desecration Amendment” — which barely fell short of the needed votes on multiple occasions. Probably the most noteworthy attempt to amend the Constitution lately was the Republican-led effort to pass a balanced budget amendment last year — an effort that fell over sixty votes short of the necessary 2/3 majority in the House.
Constitutional amendments are obviously meant to be difficult to pass and need a high degree of cross-party support. Although I would, for instance, be in favor of an amendment banning the death penalty, there is no chance for such an amendment to pass in the foreseeable future. Here are, however, some amendments that I think would benefit the country and would have a plausible chance of passing in the coming years:
1). Supreme Court term limits. The Supreme Court is an extremely ageist institution. Since the Constitution provides for lifetime terms (for all federal judges), Presidents have the incentive to nominate the youngest possible judges. Why appoint a 65-year-old judge when you can appoint a 55-year-old who will represent your views an extra ten years? As this author points out, Justice Roberts could very well still be on the Supreme court in the year 2045.
How about a 15 year term limit that allows the Supreme Court justices to retire with dignity rather than holding on as long as possible until their health holds out – especially if they are likely to be replaced by someone with opposing views if they step down. This would also increase the chances of seeing a qualified senior citizen nominated over a less qualified middle age candidate whose main purpose is to enshrine the views of the sitting president for the next generation or more.
2). Eliminate corporate “personhood” — The idea of that corporations-are-people-too has been used to block attempts to regulate corporate behavior since the mid 1800s. In the late 1800s Supreme Court Justices even found the 14th Amendment, meant to protect freed slaves, applied to corporations. More recently, the ruling of the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case, which found that corporate free speech could not be regulated, led to a huge expansion of corporate spending in public elections. Corporations are not people, and they do represent the people — the government does that and needs to be free to reign in the enormous resources available to the corporate sector.
3). End the Electoral College — This shouldn’t even require a lot of thought. Sure, there are some benefits one can argue for a system that concentrates presidential campaigns into a small number of swing states. But seriously, can any reasonable person argue that the candidate who receives fewer votes than their competitor should ever get to be president?
4). Run-off Presidential Elections — While on the topic of Presidential elections, it’s worth thinking of what would have happened this year had someone like Michael Bloomberg had thrown his hat into the ring (hint: it probably wouldn’t have been good for the President). As a matter of fact, two of the last seven presidential elections (1992 and 2000) would probably have turned out different without third-party candidates.
Third parties might sound good in principle, but they are terrible for democracy under our current system because any third-party will disproportionately draw more votes from one party than the other. This means that the side of the political spectrum with more support actually has less chance of winning. The solution — a second round of elections if neither candidate gets fifty percent of the vote. I think we can all spare another trip to the polling station to make sure the President who is elected is the person most people actually wanted.
5) Allow for foreign-born Presidents — Would it really have mattered if the wing-nut birthers in the Republican Party had been right and President Obama had been born in Kenya and immigrated to the United States with his parents as an infant? The stipulation in the Constitution requiring the presidency to be a “natural born” citizen was intended to shield the institution from foreign, particularly British, influence in the late 18th century. While I suppose the Russian sleeper agent story from 2010 gives some pause as to how hard another country might try to infiltrate the US government, it is hard to believe that someone who has lived here since their youth would have any less an American identity than someone born here. There could still be a restriction on how long someone is required to a citizen, but it could be something like 25-30 years rather than life. Because, let’s be honest, a Schwarzenegger presidency would have been pretty interesting – and the American people should have been allowed to have made it happen!
Are there any amendments you think might be passed some day?
In a couple weeks check in and see how the 2012 predictions I made in January went!