A number of years ago, I ran across a book published by one of the Republican publishers listing out a number of constitutional amendments that the far right would like to see made. In that spirit, as I think of various amendments to the US constitution that I think would be useful or necessary, I’ll add them to this post. As a result this post may change over time.
Removing Congressional Manipulation of the Legislative Process
The constitution defines a process for creating laws that assumes a normal process by which laws are considered. In the past 30 years or so, both parties have made it a habit to manipulate the process itself as a mechanism for preventing laws from being considered. This has created a situation where the voters cannot respond to the behavior of a lawmaker with respect to a law simply because their leadership has shielded the lawmaker from every having to face the consequences of debating a controversial topic.
I would suggest multiple clauses to this amendment:
- To allow states to force Congress to deal with an issue,
- to allow one chamber to force the other to deal with a bill,
- to force the Senate to deal with a nomination or appointment by the President, and
- to place both chamber’s rules under judicial review.
Isolating the Justice Department from Political Influence
We have now had two presidents who have openly and brazenly attempted to push the Justice Department to behave in ways that are personally and politically advantageous to the president. At this point, we can no longer assume that it is an anomaly but rather a weakness of the constitution itself. Fortunately other countries have seen this same problem and have addressed it. The US Constitution is rather old, having been created mostly in the late 1700’s. We should learn from well governed allies and improve our constitution to ensure the independence of justice.
While the justice department must be independent of politics, it must also be accountable and responsive to the people. In that context, any actions of the Justice department must be reviewable by both the Executive and Legislative mechanisms of government. A good writeup of the independence of the justice department can be found on the Lawfare blog (link).
I would suggest a number of clauses for this amendment:
- To establish an independent oversight for the justice department;
- To establish that both chambers of Congress and the executive must agree on who the Attorney General is and who the Director of the FBI is, and that the AG reports to the Supreme Court, not the presidency;
- to establish procedures for charging members of Congress, the Judiciary, and the sitting president with crimes and to have them adjudicated fairly.
Ensuring The Right to Vote
The constitution is not clear whether it is the states or the federal government who is responsible for ensuring that each citizen has the right to vote. As a result, we have a patchwork of laws that have been subject to manipulation over the years with respect to voter registration, in-person voting, and voter fraud. Accountability is lax at best.
I propose that an amendment to the constitution would include clauses related to the following:
- Stating that each citizen of the US has the inalienable right to vote and that individual states may require voting by their citizens;
- Stating that individual states may control mechanics for determining the winner of an election to federal, state, or local office with the exception being the offices of the President and Vice President which must be consistent across the states;
- Stating that Congress has the responsibility for ensuring that voting processes are simple and available to all citizens, that each citizen has the equal opportunity to vote and that all have the information needed to make informed choices;
- That Congress has the obligation for creating and maintaining a master list of all citizens with the right to vote, along with a unique identifier, allowing each citizen to vote once and only once in each election and only for the offices and initiatives that are applicable to their geography;
- That districts are to be formed using geometric shapes with a limited number of “sides” and must ensure that as many districts as possible are competitive among the parties and interests of the people, and are subject to judicial review.
Limiting the Corrupting Influence of Cash Contributions on Elections
The power of Congress to ensure fair elections is directly related to the ability of Congress to regulate money being spent on elections. This is a particularly insidious opportunity for corruption of our system that has been argued for decades. The constitution needs to define a clear role for Congress to play in ensuring that elections are free of corrupting influences such as money and access to media.
I suggest the following clauses to give Congress more responsibility for ensuring free and fair elections:
- Congress shall have the responsibility for ensuring that all parties in an election have an equal opportunity to present their vision and their position to voters in their geography.
- Congress shall have the right to demand that media sources make available a portion of their platform (not to exceed 10% of overall media value) for the fair and equitable use of campaigns to promote their vision and positions.
- Congress shall have the responsibility for ensuring that standards of honesty, integrity, and accuracy are met by candidates and their supporters in any election.
Removing the Personhood of Corporations
We have seen an odd series of rulings from the court, some going back as far as the late 1800’s, that has gradually eroded the ability of the elected government of the United States and the various states to govern the behavior of corporations. The basis of these rules comes from the notion that a corporation is, in some ways, comparable to a citizen. In doing so, courts have extended various rights to corporations such as free speech, and support for political candidates, that erodes the ability of government to manage the power of corporations.
I would suggest a number of clauses for this amendment:
- to declare once and for all that the rights, privileges and responsibilities of citizenship of the United States do not automatically extend to corporations;
- that Congress, not the States, has the right to define the criteria for an interstate corporation and to have supremacy in rules, standards, and punishments that apply to interstate corporations;
- that the executive team of a corporation is to be held accountable for any crimes perpetrated by the corporation itself, including both civil and criminal offenses;
- that any group of 25% of states may promote a rule to Congress to regulate interstate corporations and that Congress is obligated to debate it for adoption.
Updating the requirements to hold office
The United States has seen, over the years, a number of situations where the citizens of a state or locality want to place limits or controls on their elected representatives, only to have the courts strike those limits down. We need to rebalance the ability of states and the people to create binding controls on their elected representatives.
I suggest clauses that align to the following:
- Allow individual states to set limitations on the tenure of the representatives that they send to Congress, including term limits, age limitations, and health limitations.
- Allow Congress to require information to be provided by candidates for Federal office to be released to the people, including financial disclosures and health disclosures. Congress may set standards for the collection of that information, specifically including a requirement that a neutral party may be involved in creating or collecting the information.
- Allow Congress to regulate what assets a federal office holder may own or control while they are in office, and what additional fiduciary responsibilities they may hold, to limit conflicts of interest.
- Allow Congress to limit or control the appointment or hiring of people to roles in government by the president, specifically to exclude the hiring of family members or the granting of rights and privileges to family members
Ensuring the right to privacy
We need more than just having the government agree not to violate our privacy, although that would be a basic minimum. We need an assertive right, where the government acts as our protector to ensure that we can remain private from one another.
Of course, this one is touchy because there is information that people are more than willing to make available to different people, depending on their relationships with them. I may tell a friend my birthday, but not tell my grocer. I may tell my wife about our family finances but would not tell my father that same information. And in this age of big-data and location tracking, the companies I do business with may have substantial data on me that I have no control over.
This amendment should contain the following clauses:
- Affirmation that all people in the United States retain ownership over information about them, and that Congress has the right to pass laws to ensure that people can maintain visibility to and control of who that information is collected by, used by, and shared with.
- Recognition that people operating in a public sphere may be required to share specific information with their fellow citizens, and giving Congress the right and responsibility for balancing the public need for information and the private control of personal data.
- Establish that the US government and the governments of the states shall collect, secure, and control information about citizens only as necessary for the maintenance of civil order, voting, and the provision of shared government and commercial services to the citizens.
Clarify Gun Ownership Laws
The Supreme Court has had many different opinions on the rights of gun ownership in the US. At one time, the court held that the constitution welcomed restrictions on gun ownership, registration, and education requirements. At other times, it held that the right to bear arms was limited to formal government militias (e.g. the national guard).
This is not a decision that should be left in the hands of judges to change their minds at a moment’s notice. I suggest an amendment that would supersede the second amendment and would clarify the role of guns in American society.
- Clarify that gun ownership is a privilege in the US, not a right, and that Congress and the legislatures of the states are expected to place common sense restrictions on who should own a weapon, what kinds of weapons are available to the public for purchase or sale, and any requirements for registration, taxation, and liability as they see fit.
- Clarify that active members of the National Guard have the right to own and possess weapons for the use of the National Guard but that the military leadership of the country has the right to regulate where those weapons are stored, what weapons are issued, and the conditions upon which those weapons must be returned to military armories or destroyed.
- These clauses supersede and replace the second amendment.