I believe in democracy. When most of the people want to change our laws or 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.
Most states require state constitutional amendments to be approved by the citizenry at the ballot box, often by a super-majority. 24 states permit citizens to initiate new state laws or repeal existing laws through petitions followed by a popular referendum. We need to adopt similar measures at the federal level. Voters should approve any change to the U.S. Constitution, and citizens should also be able to create or repeal laws when Congress fails to act. Citizens should be able to call for a constitutional convention. The rules governing the exercise of such citizen power should make it difficult but not impossible for the citizens, through direct action, to modify our constitution or laws. We should not do these things on a whim, but citizens in a democracy should be able to do them.
A constitutional amendment to empower citizens should replace Article V of the 1787 Constitution. This article would state:
- Citizens have the right, through a petition, to propose a federal statute, repeal a federal statute, propose a constitutional amendment, and convene a constitutional convention.
- Congress has the right to propose a constitutional amendment.
- Voters have the final decision: Voters will decide whether to enact or repeal a law brought to them through a citizens’ petition; voters will ratify or reject all proposed constitutional amendments; and voters will decide whether or not to convene a constitutional convention.
- We will create a new body known as the Panel of Scribes, consisting of three Scribes, nominated by the vice president (in his role as President of the Senate), the Speaker of the House, and the Chief Justice of the United States; either chamber of Congress may reject any Scribe appointment.
- A new petition, after it has been signed by 500,000 voters, will be submitted to the Panel of Scribes. The Scribes will make any necessary changes to the proposal to ensure that the wording is clear, accurate, and consistent. The Scribes will also create and approve a summary statement of the arguments for and against the petition. The revised petition will then be circulated generally. After publication by the Panel of Scribes, petitioners have two years in which to gather sufficient signatures to put the measure on the ballot.
- A successful petition is one that is signed by at least 1% of the number of voters for president in the most recent presidential general election, including at least 1% of the voters in 60% of the states. A successful petition will appear on the ballot at the next Congressional general election.
- Approval by a majority of all votes cast and including a majority of voters in a majority of states is needed to enact or repeal a statute or to convene a constitutional convention.
- Approval by a majority of all votes cast and including a majority of voters in 60% of the states containing 60% of the population is needed to ratify a constitutional amendment.
Empowering the people to amend the Constitution will be a huge step forward for democracy. Amending our Constitution should not be easy; but if the people demand changes in the Constitution, they should have the means of achieving that result.
Here is suggested wording for a constitutional amendment. This proposed amendment will be referenced as Amendment NNN elsewhere in this document.
Amendment NNN: Constitutional Amendments; Citizens’ Petitions; Panel of Scribes
This amendment replaces Article V of the Constitution.
Section 1. Citizen Petitions; Initiative and Referendum; Power to Amend
Any citizen may initiate a petition to
- create a new federal statute,
- repeal an existing federal statute,
- amend the Constitution, or
- convene a constitutional convention for one or more specific purposes.
A new Citizens Petition becomes a Validated Citizens Petition after it has been signed by 500,000 voters. A Validated Citizens Petition will be vetted by a Panel of Scribes.
A constitutional amendment may also be proposed by an Act of Congress, approved by a 60% majority in both chambers.
The power to adopt a proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States or to convene a constitutional convention rests solely with the citizens of the United States.
Section 2. Panel of Scribes
The Panel of Scribes consists of three published authors, selected for their ability to compose clear and concise prose. They shall be nominated during the first year of each presidential term of office, as follows:
The Chief Justice of the United States, by February 1, shall nominate a lawyer;
The Speaker of the House, by April 1, shall nominate a journalist; and
The Vice President of the United States, acting as the presiding officer of the Senate, by June 1, shall nominate a poet, novelist, or other author, who will also serve as the Chair of the Panel of Scribes.
Either chamber of Congress, by majority vote taken within one month after a Scribe has been nominated, can disapprove that nomination; in which case, the nominating official shall nominate a replacement within one month after the disapproved nominee shall have been disapproved.
The Panel of Scribes takes office when all three Scribes have been nominated and the period during which their nominations can be rejected by either chamber has ended.
2.2 Eligibility and Compensation
All three Scribes must be citizens and registered voters and must have voted in at least one of the last two presidential elections. All must be published authors. None of them can be a public official. They must reside in three different states. At least one of them must be male, and at least one of them must be female.
While the Panel of Scribes is in session, Scribes shall be compensated at the rate of $1 per day, or as otherwise provided by Congress. Travel and per diem expenses of each Scribe and administrative expenses of the Panel shall also be reimbursed by the US Treasury.
Section 3. Duties and Responsibilities
All Validated Citizens Petitions will be submitted to the Panel of Scribes. A constitutional amendment proposed by an Act of Congress will also be submitted to the Panel of Scribes.
The Panel of Scribes will make any necessary changes to a Validated Citizens Petition to ensure that the wording is clear, accurate, and consistent. For both a Validated Citizens Petition and a constitutional amendment proposed by Congress, the Panel will also create and approve a summary statement of the arguments for and against the proposal. The revised proposal, including the summary and the pro- and con-arguments, will then be published and circulated generally.
Section 4. Meetings
The Panel of Scribes shall convene for one session every four years, beginning on September 1 of the year in which nominated or one month after the Panel takes office, whichever is later. This session continues until the Panel has published every Validated Citizens Petition and every constitutional amendment proposed by Congress received before the Panel session began, after which the Panel of Scribes shall adjourn sine die.
The President of the Senate, at his discretion, may convene one additional extraordinary session of the Panel of Scribes, after its one compulsory session has been adjourned, and before the next presidential election year begins.
Section 5. Decisions of the Citizens
5.1 For a Validated Citizens Petition:
After publication by the Panel of Scribes, petitioners have two years in which to gather sufficient signatures to put the measure on the ballot.
A Successful Petition is one that is signed by at least 1% of the number of voters for President in the most recent presidential general election, including at least 1% of the voters in 60% of the states. A Successful Petition will appear on the ballot at the next Congressional general election.
5.2 For a Constitutional Amendment proposed by an Act of Congress:
After publication by the Panel of Scribes, the proposed Amendment will appear on the ballot at the next Congressional general election.
5.3 Results of the Referendum:
If a ballot measure to create a new federal statute, repeal an existing federal statute, or convene a constitutional convention is approved by a majority of all votes cast, including a majority of the votes cast in a majority of the states, then the ballot measure succeeds. To wit: the new federal statute becomes law, or the existing federal statute is repealed, or a constitutional convention is convened.
If a ballot measure which proposes a constitutional amendment (whether initiated by a Citizens Petition or by an Act of Congress) is approved by a majority of all votes cast, including a majority of the votes cast in 60% of the states containing 60% of the U.S. population, then the proposed constitutional amendment becomes part of the Constitution.