Thursday, January 10, 2013

New Constitutional Amendments I'd Like to See (But Probably Never Will)

Since the election, I have been amazed at how little has changed.  The president won, but he still seems to be playing defense, and is having to face a nomination fight over Chuck Hagel, who's a bloody Republican, for crying out loud.  Gridlock almost let the austerity bomb go off, and now it seems that Republicans are gunning for another debt ceiling hostage crisis.  Much needed hurricane aid for the northeast has been stalled, and Congress seems to have little interest in making itself better than head lice and genital warts in the public esteem.

Many of these problems have to do with the way that our Constitution allows the system to be manipulated.  It's totally unlikely that we will ever come up with a new Constitution, so the only way to make the system work better would be through Constitutional amendments.  Considering the 75% threshold of states needed combined with our divided political system, that won't happen anytime soon. Still, here are some rather common-sensical amendments I'd like to see, some of which apply to gridlock, and others to deeper issues.

Abolish the electoral college
The electoral college is an embarrassing white elephant, a relic from the Founders' suspicion of the people.  It enables candidates who lose the popular vote to win the election, and makes voters living in heavily red or blue states irrelevant.  The president would now be selected by the popular vote, and if no one candidate receives a majority of votes cast, a run-off between the top two vote-getters would be required.

Uniform voter registration
I find it rather insane that we have national elections, but individual states determine who gets to vote in them.  Thus some states ban all former criminals from voting, and use voter ID laws to suppress turnout.  I would like to see an amendment creating uniform voter qualifications, and ones that do not require ID.  I would be fine with such an amendment forbidding prisoners on felony charges from voting, but not one that would take away their votes for life.

Repeal the second amendment
The current interpretation of this amendment makes meaningful gun control legislation difficult to obtain.  Add to that the fact that the original amendment is ambiguously worded (it gives the right to bear arms to "the people" rather than to individual citizens.)  We are losing tens of thousands of people to gun violence each year, and need to have ways to seriously address the problem.  The 2nd Amendment was written by people who lived in a world of muskets; it has long outlived its original intent.

End Congress' control of the debt ceiling
Some claim that a proper interpretation of the 14th Amendment holds that Congress can't control the debt ceiling anyway, due to a clause saying that the debt of the United States can't be "questioned."  Congress gets to vote on the budget, which makes the debt ceiling redundant, and only useful as a tool for holding the public hostage.  These hostage crises threaten the nation's credit rating and serve no good purpose.

Increase the number of representatives in the House
The nation's population has reached three hundred million, but we still have the same number of representatives in the House as we did when the country was less than a third as populous as it is now.  House reps are more distant from their constituents than ever, and with larger districts gerrymandering is that much easier.  With smaller districts citizens will be able to better influence their representatives and have their voices listened to.

House districting put in the hands of non-partisan judicial panels
As mentioned before, gerrymandering is out of hand.  In the last election Democratic candidates for the House out-polled Republicans in the nationwide total, but the Republicans still won the House by a comfortable margin.  That would still be a shame in my eyes if the parties were reversed.

End corporate personhood
The pernicious doctrine of corporate personhood is one of the most malodorous legal fictions ever farted out by the judiciary.  It has given even more power to this nation's real rulers, allowed them to manipulate the political system, and to oppress their employees.  Ending corporate personhood is a common-sense idea whose time has come.

Equal Rights Amendment
Let's end on a positive note, shall we?  When I teach my students about the ERA and Phyllis Schlafly's successful push to keep it from passing, they are usually flabbergasted that such a common-sense amendment was defeated.  It's high time we brought it back, and this time the ERA should also include provisions banning discrimination on the basis of sexuality, as well as on gender.

1 comment:

Brian I said...

Great post! As devil's advocate, though, I will point out one unfortunate consequence (which I think one of my students recently noted) of abolishing the electoral college: If all voters in all states mattered, how long would presidential campaigns last and how much would they cost? I still think it's a good idea to abolish, or at least reform, the EC, but this is something we might need to talk about first.