Big Fix 3. Empower Voters to Amend the Constitution

The Founding Fathers trusted neither the King nor the people en masse – in their view the tyranny of the mob was no better than the tyranny of an autocrat. That is at least a partial explanation for the very limited power of everyday-joe-citizens in the Constitution. This is pointedly true with respect to amending the Constitution.

Article V of the Constitution specifies the two procedures that can be followed to propose amendments to the Constitution: 1) an amendment can be proposed by two-thirds of both Houses of Congress, or 2) two-thirds of the state legislatures can require Congress to call for a convention that will propose constitutional amendments. In either case, Congress then submits the proposed amendments to the states, specifying whether these amendments will be considered by state legislatures or by state conventions. Proposed amendments that are ratified by three-fourths of the states (either legislatures or conventions, as specified by Congress) become part of the Constitution.

Note that regular citizens have little say in any of this. That is most certainly a challenge.

I believe in democracy. When most of the people want to change our constitution, then their collective opinion should carry the day. At the same time, popular opinion should not be just a temporary infatuation with an idea or politician; rather, the collective, considered opinion of the citizenry, taken over time, should determine our collective course.

The reason I have included this fix as one of the three Big Fixes is that a significant number of the fixes proposed in this book either require a Constitutional amendment or would work better with a Constitutional amendment (including, for example, replacement of the Electoral College or re-making the US Senate into a representative body). Since the existing procedure for amending the Constitution cuts out all but a few thousand federal and state legislators, it behooves us to come up with a new procedure in which Joe and Jane Citizen cast the deciding vote.

In addition to casting the deciding vote on proposed Constitutional amendments, Joe and Jane Citizen should also have a way of introducing or proposing a Constitutional amendment without waiting for the political class to act. My proposal here is that we use the existing procedures in every state for amending their state constitutions. In about half the states, the citizens can use a petition system to put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot, and in almost all the states, voters must ratify a state constitutional amendment whether proposed by citizen petition or by the legislature. If half of the states, following their own states’ procedures for amending their state constitutions, comprising at least half of the US population, propose an amendment to the US Constitution, then that proposed amendment will be submitted to the people.

In the revised amendment procedure, I am recommending that Congress may propose a Constitutional amendment by majority vote in both chambers, as opposed to the two-thirds majority currently required. The rationale for this change is that we are consciously shifting power from the professional politicians to the people. We are not making it easier to amend the Constitution, as you will see in the suggested wording of this Article V replacement; rather, we are making it more difficult for a small clique of elected officials to obstruct the will of the people.

Here is suggested wording for the proposed constitutional amendment. This amendment will be referenced as the Amendment on Amendments throughout this document.

Amendment on Amendments

This amendment replaces Article V of the Constitution.

Section 1. Proposing a Constitutional Amendment

This section prescribes two methods for proposing an amendment to the Constitution.

  • Method 1. The Congress, whenever a majority of both chambers shall deem it necessary, shall propose an amendment to this Constitution.
  • Method 2. Each of the several states may propose a Constitutional amendment by approving the amendment according to the procedures of each state for amending their own state constitutions. When at least half of the states comprising at least half of the US population propose such an amendment, then this amendment becomes a proposed amendment.

When an amendment to this Constitution has been proposed according to either method specified in this Section, that amendment shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the people as specified in Section 3.

Section2. Constitutional Convention and Proposing a New Constitution

This section prescribes two methods for proposing a Constitutional Convention charged with the task of drafting a New Constitution.

  • Method 1. On the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, Congress shall call a Constitutional Convention for the purpose of drafting a new Constitution.
  • Method 2. Each of the several states may propose a Constitutional Convention charged with drafting a new Constitution by approving the call for a Constitutional Convention according to the procedures of each state for amending their own state constitutions. When at least half of the states comprising at least half of the US population propose a Constitutional Convention, Congress shall call a Constitutional Convention for the purpose of drafting a new Constitution.

When states have called for a Constitutional Convention according to either method specified in this Section, Congress shall convene said convention. The product of said convention shall be the Proposed New Constitution, which shall be valid and will replace this Constitution, when ratified by the people as specified in Section 3.

Section 3. Ratification of Constitutional Amendments by the People

Two General Elections. Ratification requires the approval of voters in two general elections. Between these two general elections, at least one other general election must take place and a new person must hold the office of President.

Ratification Threshold. In both of these two general elections, ratification requires the approval of 1) a majority of all votes cast, and 2) a majority of votes cast in 60% of the states containing 60% of the population.

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