- Politics and Social Issues
Time for Constitutional Change
The purpose of this article is to discuss proposed changes to our United States Constitution and the roles and processes for turning those proposals into real change. The article will provide a brief history of changes to our United States Constitution, list several changes that have been discussed in articles here on Hub Pages, or through e-mail, and identify actions we need to take to encourage our states legislatures or United States Congressmen to take their next steps.
The changes discussed here have the goals of
- ensuring representatives are not rulers,
- restoring the role of the States, and
- clarifying presidential qualifications.
History of Changes
We have made only twenty-seven changes to our Constitution in over 200 years. It has been over forty years since we have proposed an amendment to the Constitution, and over twenty years since we last approved a change to the Constitution. The last change was proposed over 200 years ago, and was included with the Bill of Rights. Ten of the changes occurred at the same time when the Bill of Rights was ratified. So we have actually changed the Constitution only eighteen times. The average is one change every 10-12 years.
We are overdue, but, much like we had forgotten that our Government gets its authority from the people (we remembered with the elections in 2010), we may have forgotten what is required to make changes to the Constitution.
The Change Process
There are four ways to initiate change that I could come up with as I researched this article.
- Congressionally Proposed Constitutional Amendment
- State Proposed Constitutional Convention
- Congressional Points of Order or "How Congress will do Law"
- The peoples role, what can we do to help?
Proposing Constitutional Change - Article V of the Constitution describes its own process for change. There are two ways to propose amendments. First, when two thirds of each House agree, they can propose an amendment. Second, when two thirds of the States legislatures ask Congress to call a convention, Congress must call a convention for proposing amendments.
Ratifying Constitutional Change - Congress is allowed to propose the method by which a change to the Constitution can be ratified. The method they choose is also associated with the way the change was proposed. For the change to become law, the Constitution requires either three-fourths of the states agree with a congressionally proposed change, or that three-fourths of the Constitutional Convention agree when a Convention is called.
Enforcing the Constitution Early – One concern that citizens have had is that some members of Congress appear to not want to follow their own laws, nor are willing to restrict their lawmaking to the authorities we’ve granted them under the Constitution. These folks leave us with the feeling that once elected, they regard themselves as the authority for what they can do, and that any challenge to that authority must go through judicial review. (It reminds me of the elementary school game “King of the Hill”, where the King make the rules, and has to be knocked down if you don't like them).
It would be nice if potentially unconstitutional laws were avoided before Congress and the Executive passed them into law. Taxpayer dollars get spent to pass the law, sign it into law, challenge it, and undo it. This is time-consuming and a waste of our taxpayer dollars.
In 2010, the House had a proposal before it to allow identification of the Constitutional authority for any act of Congress.
H.R.450 – Enumerated Powers Act requires each Act of Congress to contain a concise and definite statement of the constitutional authority relied upon for the enactment of each portion of that Act. The Act declares that failure to comply with this requirement shall give rise to a point of order in either chamber of Congress.
This one simple change will encourage the people responsible for acting as our representatives to reference the specific authorities we have granted them. It might even encourage them to read the law before signing it, or even better, read the Constitution before swearing to uphold it. Passing laws that are not traceable back to the Constitution should be regarded as irresponsible, and be reason for recall from their position.
(Note - 7 January 2011 - The House passed H.R. 5 - "Adopting rules for the One Hundred Twelfth Congress." Rule number one indicates "All bills and joint resolutions must cite the specific powers granted to Congress in the Constitution that allow the enactment of the legislation.")
(Note - 31 July 2011 - Recall of a Senator who does not vote in support of his State's legislature's position is not an option. According to "The Foundry", US Senators cannot be recalled. See their article. )
Repeal the 17th Amendment
What Constitutional Changes Are Needed?
In addition to H.R.450, there are several amendments to the Constitution that have been discussed fairly freely here on Hub Pages and through e-mails.
The Role of the Senate: In our original Constitution, Senators were originally intended to represent for the individual states, and were selected using a constitutionally mandated process that caused them to owe their allegiance to the state that sent them to the Senate (and allowed them to be fired by that State). The perception now is that senators owe their allegiance not to the people nor to their states legislatures, but only to whoever contributed to their campaign.
There have been at least two approaches discussed regarding restoring state representation within our federal government. The first is to simply repeal the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, which required Senators be elected through the popular election process. Another is to provide an “after the law is made” mechanism called the Repeal Amendment. This second method, favored by former Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, would amend the constitution to give two-thirds of states the power to rescind any act of Congress or federal regulation.
Politics is not in a normal status if politicians and academia are not making it confusing for us to understand. The two approaches are, first: " Repeal the 17th Amendment ", and second: “Pass the Repeal Amendment”. The first method restores a low cost method (involving a hundred senators) for Senators to act as representatives for their States, and ensures they owe their allegiance to their States. The second method provides a high cost (tax-wise) fallback for the cases where a large collection of Senators do not do their job of representation, and are not afraid of being fired either. In other words, our taxes would have to pay for 37 state legislatures to ask for repeal. In my opinion, the first method is the more fiscally responsible method. The second method potentially incurs more long-term tax burden on American citizens to resolve disagreements between Federal government and State governments.
- The Repeal Amendment | The American Spectator
Article from 2010.
Representatives, not Rulers: There is much concern on the parts of citizens that our elected officials have created for themselves a favored system within government. People believe Congress can retire with full pay after a single term, that their retirement pay increases beyond that based on number of years served, and that they exempt themselves from many of the laws that have been passed for us. In short, the laws for Congress are different from the laws for the people. This leads to the perception that they are a self-appointed ruling class, at tax-payer expense. This appearance of self-serving must stop. The proposed constitutional amendment that has been discussed to correct this is:
“Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States.”
Presidential Qualifications: The question here is simple; do we want to clarify the citizenship requirements associated with eligibility to be President? Amendment 14 of the Constitution indicates that in order to automatically be a citizen of the United States, you have to be born within the United States. Article II section 1 of the Constitution uses the phrase, "natural-born citizen" in its identification of eligibility requirements. We have seen claims that historically, the meaning of the phrase “natural born citizen”, at the time the Constitution was written appears to be different from its meaning now, over 220 years later. Back then, ‘Natural born citizen’ meant born in the country, and also born of citizens whose citizenship was solely of this country. In other words, having dual citizenship or being born of parents who held dual citizenship would have prevented you from being President. If citizenship birth-rights are the concern, then come up with some wording to close the loop-hole, and amend the Constitution. Thank our 44th president for attracting so much attention to the need for discussion of the amendment, and move on.
However, if the real concern is loyalty to the United States, then open the discussions as to whether determining loyalty prior to election needs to be one of the eligibility requirements for the Presidency. Goodness knows, we would never have either question about the "Guvenator", everyone knows he cannot qualify to be President. And yet, as far as I know, his loyalty to the United States has never been questioned.
What can "We the People" do to help bring Constitutional Change?
No progress is made simply by offering hypothetical solutions or by arguing merit. So this article includes brief suggestions on what to do next.
If you think we need the states to call a Constitutional Convention, then you need to write to your state government. You will need to find the address or e-mail of the Secretary of State for your State if you want to send your state officials a letter. Consider writing a letter similar to below.
If you think we need to offer up our interpretation of the message we meant to convey with the latest election, then consider sending the following letter. If we see the actions requested in this letter proposed before Congress then we will know that our message has been heard. You may need to send the letter before the incoming representatives get exposed to the old saying ‘things are different in Washington.’
Open Government is becoming more and more feasible thanks to the Internet. Addresses and e-mail addresses for your representative can be found at http://house.gov/. There is a section on the left titled "House Overview". Under that is an area that says "Find Your Representative." Enter your zip-code, click, "go", and the site links to information about your representative. The representative page has an e-mail icon you can click on to try to send your representative a message. When you select the e-mail icon, you are asked to enter your personal information, select the general area of your concern (I used "Government Reform"), and enter your message. When I first did this in 2010, I cut and paste the letter below.
Write a Letter
Authors Note: The original letter requested that our representatives only create laws that could be directly traced to the authorities granted to them under the Constitution, as outlined in H.R.450 of the 2010 Congress above. The letter below was modified from the original since a version of H.R.450 was passed as one of the first actions of the House in 2011. Note that the one resolution of that one Congress is the only item of the original four that has been acted upon.
Please consider the following actions that have the goals of 1) ensuring representatives are not rulers, 2) restoring the role of the States in our federal government system, and 3) clarifying presidential qualifications.
- Action 1: Sponsor or co-sponsor an amendment to the Constitution stating: “Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States.”
- Action 2: Sponsor or co-sponsor a request to repeal the 17thamendment to the Constitution.
- Action 3: Sponsor or co-sponsor a request to clarify eligibility requirements for the Office of President of the United States (with no modifications to be applicable to the current president).
Thank you. I look forward to voting in the next elections.
US National Archives
- Transcript of the Constitution of the United States - Official
September 17, 1787
- Bill of Rights
Proposed March 4, 1789. Ratified December 15, 1791. The Bill of Rights are the first 10 amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
- The Constitution of the United States: Amendments 11-27
August 2013 - The Liberty Amendments
A new book authored by Mark Levin titled "The Liberty Amendments - Restoring the American Republic" was released 12 August 2013. The book is published by Threshold Editions, a Division of Simon and Schuster, Inc. A quote from amazon.com from the description of this book says "Levin argues that if we cherish our American heritage, it is time to embrace a constitutional revival." Various book reviews and talk shows in the week that followed share the premise that it is time to begin a national discussion aimed at restoring the balance between federal and state governments.