June 20th, 2011
12:26 PM ET

Is it time to update the U.S. Constitution?

We all know how Americans revere the Constitution, so I was struck by the news that tiny, little Iceland is actually junking its own Constitution and starting anew using an unusual - some would say innovative - mechanism.

The nation decided it needed a new Constitution and it's soliciting ideas from all of Iceland's 320,000 citizens with the help of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. This social media method has worked. Ideas have been flowing in. Many have asked for guaranteed, good health care. Others want campaign finance systems that make corporate donations illegal. And some just want the country to make shark finning illegal.

There is a Constitutional Council. It incorporates some of these ideas, rejects others, but everything is done in plain sight on the web. As one member of the Constitutional Council said, the document is basically being drafted on the Internet. 

Now, why do they need a new Constitution anyway? Well, after Iceland was crippled in recent years by the economic crisis, they all wanted a fresh start. And, anyway, they felt the document was old and outdated, drafted all the way back in 1944.

You might be tempted to say that Iceland doesn't have any reasons to be proud of its political traditions in the manner that the United States does. Well, think again.

Iceland is home to the world's oldest parliament still in existence, the Althing, set up in 930 A.D. The rocky ledge on which they gathered represents the beginnings of representative government in the world. So Iceland has reasons to cherish its history, and yet it was willing to revise it.

By contrast, any talk of revising or revisiting the U.S. Constitution is, of course, seen as heresy. The United States Constitution was, as you know, drafted in a cramped room in Philadelphia in 1787 with shades drawn over the windows. It was signed by 39 people.

America at the time consisted of 13 states. Congress had 26 senators and 65 representatives. The entire population was about one percent of today's number - four million people.

America was an agricultural society, with no industry - not even cotton gins. The flush toilet had just been invented.

These were the circumstances under which this document was written.

Let me be very clear here, the U.S. Constitution is an extraordinary work - one of the greatest expressions of liberty and law in human history.

One amazing testament to it is the mere fact that it has survived as the law of the land for 222 years.

But our Constitution has been revised 27 times.  Some of these revisions have been enormous and important, such as the abolition of slavery. Then there are areas that have evolved. For example, the power of the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, is barely mentioned in the document. This grew as a fact over history.

But there are surely some issues that still need to be debated and fixed.

The electoral college, for example, is highly undemocratic, allowing for the possibility that someone could get elected as president even if he or she had a smaller share of the total national vote than his opponent.

The structure of the Senate is even more undemocratic, with Wisconsin's six million inhabitants getting the same representation in the Senate as California's 36 million people. That's not exactly one man, one vote.

And we are surely the only modern nation that could be paralyzed as we were in 2000 over an election dispute because we lack a simple national electoral system.

So we could use the ideas of social media that were actually invented in this country to suggest a set of amendments to modernize the Constitution for the 21st Century.

Such a plan is not unheard of in American history.

After all, the delegates in Philadelphia in 1787 initially meant not to create the Constitution as we now know it, but instead to revise the existing document, the Articles of Confederation. But the delegates saw a disconnect between the document that currently governed them and the needs of the nation, so their solution was to start anew.

I'm just suggesting we talk about a few revisions.

Anyway, what do you think? Should we do this? And if we were to revise the U.S. Constitution, what would be the three amendments you would put in?

Let us know in the comment thread and we'll post the best ones on the Global Public Square.

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Topics: GPS Show • Law • What in the World?

soundoff (2,350 Responses)
  1. MS

    The Senate was designed that way because Southern States who had fewer people (slaves were only counted as 3/5ths a person) didn't want the Northern states to have too much power. That's why we have a Bicameral system. Anybody who has taken an entry level Political Science course should know that.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Reply
  2. Melissa

    I think its a brilliant idea. It needs to change with the times, and additions need to be made in the realm of the right to decide what to do with a persons own body, and sexual orientation. Its time.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Reply
  3. Finn Banks

    I think the resulting discussion has pointed out, what I think, is the main problem with the constituion - its outdated reliance on "state's rights". As has been pointed out, the constitution was written in the time of the horse and buggy. They were mostly hoping to allow each area to maintain their own culture and values. But we have grown beyond that. We're a national county that embraces our national identity. We have corporations and banks that have offices in every state. We all watch the same entertainment, listen to the same music, and visit the same websites. Yes, I argue for more centralization of the government and the reduction of state's rights. The only reason anyone argues for state's rights anymore is because it's easier for major corporations to manipulate state government and avoid regulation.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Reply
    • R.Schultz

      See, I would actually argue that we need more reliance on states rights now and less on national centralized power. The fear of corporations going unregulated are unfounded, as much of that is established under the interstate commerce clause of the constitution. More dependance on states rights would actually show more results more quickly, as you would have states that are more willing to take on responsibility and take action without fear of federal reprisal, and if results were good, it would spread faster to other states. When results are bad, you only have a minority feeling the pain instead of an entire nation as well. The idea is that states competing against each other for business and citizens.

      June 20, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Reply
    • Melissa

      States rights are only dividing this country.

      June 20, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Reply
  4. american

    Fareed, you are an ignorant jackass. Our Constitution is what made us the greatest nation in the world! Despite what your lackey Obama says, or apologizes for.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Reply
  5. FedUpWithBigGovernment

    We don't have anyone intelligent or wise enough to write a document like our Constitution. Zakaria you really need to read Democracy In America and then you may understand why things are set up as they are. It was brilliant and the fact that it is still flexible enough and has survived as long as it has is a testiment to it's relevance.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Reply
  6. Peter B

    In no way shall the interpretation or understanding of this constitution be fixed as of the time of ratification, nor at any time thereafter.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  7. Andrew

    The Senate protects us from "mob rule"? You mean democracy? Yes, New York and California would have more say if we abolished the Senate, but it would be proportional and therefore appropriate. They wouldn't control the discourse entirely— the two states only make up 18% of the U.S. population—but states like Wyoming (0.17% of the population) wouldn't have disproportional say in the Federal system, just jurisdiction over state matters.

    The electoral college is an antiquated joke, the Supreme Court hijacked their powers in Marbury v Madison (which Jefferson loathed, by the way)...we can't keep venerating our broken system because we grew up pledging allegiance to the flag. It is more un-American to accept a system that subverts the will of the people in favor of political parties and corporations, when it has the potential to be such a leading light on the world stage.

    Trash the constitution. Its groundbreaking ideas are still relevant today, but we could keep those and improve it with insights from the last 200 years. We can make a constituition that the founders would be proud of. More importantly, one that we can be proud of.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  8. Sam Strelitz

    The 'government' just steals money and represses people with ignorance taught in schools and laws to prevent people from doing anything. I was looking over the santa cruz count sheriff arrest logs online, they're just busting a few drunks here and there, not the big cases on the news, and it appears they're taking bribes and causing crimes too as job protection and so they can keep their 'loophole' perks in the laws, along with huge tax based and bribe based payouts and other perks, while ignoring things like 'right to bear arms' (became 'right to ask permissions for primitive weapons') or all the excessive bullshit the laws have become compared to their practice, time for a real change, let people own anything and do what they want with their property, and to stop censoring people and the media as well 'for the children' or for any other reason, that censorship makes showing what they do a crime as well, and talking about them in public is certain death due to their abilities of lying and framing.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Reply
    • Melissa

      No, that would be the greedy corporations.

      June 20, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Reply
  9. Sam Strelitz

    Site claims this is dublicatE?

    The 'government' just steals money and represses people with ignorance taught in schools and laws to prevent people from doing anything. I was looking over the santa cruz count sheriff arrest logs online, they're just busting a few drunks here and there, not the big cases on the news, and it appears they're taking bribes and causing crimes too as job protection and so they can keep their 'loophole' perks in the laws, along with huge tax based and bribe based payouts and other perks, while ignoring things like 'right to bear arms' (became 'right to ask permissions for primitive weapons') or all the excessive bullshit the laws have become compared to their practice, time for a real change, let people own anything and do what they want with their property, and to stop censoring people and the media as well 'for the children' or for any other reason, that censorship makes showing what they do a crime as well, and talking about them in public is certain death due to their abilities of lying and framing.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Reply
  10. Deep North

    The whole system is a farce. 535 people to represent 300 million!....... NO balance there! All influenced by corporate donations.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Reply
    • brian

      538–don't forget DC

      June 20, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Reply
  11. dave

    First observation: the constitution recognizes as citizens those born here. We forgot to add: born here legally.

    So, first go back 50 years and grandfather in whoever was here at the time (plus any who subsequently came here via our immigration system). Then extend citizenship to their children, grandchildren, etc. in existence today. Anyone else is undocumented and must apply for citizenship.

    Next, recognize that Americans are largely on the same page about foreign affairs but divided domestically. Provide that the federal government represents all internationally and must levy a uniform system of taxation and centralized budget for that purpose, but allow it to consist potentially of a confederation of fiscally autonomous domestic blocs, each of which has its own uniform set of regional laws, regulations, taxes and budgets for internal use, according to their own constitutions, which must respect the basic rights under the federal Constitution.. Thus, the West coast and the Northeast could be a high tax, high entitlement bloc, while the Southeast/Midsouth could be low tax, personal responsibility states. Both would be represented internationally by the national federation.

    It would be nice to put to bed once and for all the meaning of the right to bear arms.

    It would also be nice to resolve that the separation of church, state is a proscription against state preferences in religion, rather than a repudiation of it.

    I'd actually like to see a Constitution which recognizes modern media and, while assigning the elected reps the task of precise lawmaking and execution, accords the taxpayer the privilege of assigning his taxes to particular components of the budget. That is, if I owe $20,000, let ME decide which share I want credited to the national defense versus to social programs, international aid, etc. This would be done at the time of e-filing using a secure password.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Reply
  12. LRMac

    LEAVE IT ALONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    June 20, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Reply
  13. craig

    I think we should increase the time a person has in office to 8 years and then they should not be allowed to hold office again, it might prevent them from acting with the intrest of being re-elected, i also think that icland has it right no corprate campaign funds. That being said i would like to say the Constitution has done us all very good and probly only needs a few edits.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Reply
  14. Kevin

    I believe you need to re-study how the US Government was formed. Also, look up the definitions of Democratic sociseties, and a society that is a Republic. Our founding fathers gave a a "Republic", not a democarcy.If we were a true democracy, then we would all be spending our time reading the bills and voting on them. The common person does not have time for this. Thus, a Republic form of government allows us to vote for individuals to represent us, and vote for us and what is in the best interest of the USA, and her citizens. Our constitution does not need to be revised like so many other nations do, it has lasted over 200 years. It is the only one ever to last that long. But, when as a country we need to make changes to it, such as the slavery issue, or prohibition, than there is a procedure to make those changes. But that is also a very long process, all states would have to ratify the change. So, please go back and re-study the true history and true meaninig behind the US constitution before you say we need to change it.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Reply
  15. David

    its like saying just because the bible was written in a time when people rode on camels it should be abolished and is now aobsolete??? the constitution was written by men afraid for their lives yet believeing in divine providence...its an insult to them fareed from your safe and comfortable CNN office to even hint at abolishing that document- Shame on you!!!

    June 20, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Reply
  16. Red

    We don't need to rewrite the Constitution. We just need the government to obey it! What's the point of rewriting the Constitution if the government doesn't even follow it??

    June 20, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Reply
  17. TheBuckStopsHere

    If our Legislative Branch ever "evolves" to be completely proportional to the population of each of the states, I'll be looking forward to the immediate secession of virtually every other state other than California, Texas, and New York. Those states already have far too much influence on our country, which can easily be evidenced by our federal government running its budget into the ground similar to California and New York. No thank you, sir. I'd rather die defending my right to live life the way I see fit than have Liberalforniayork choose those things for me.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Reply
  18. Tel

    My top three Amendments:
    1. The Congress shall not have the power to make funding to any state contingent upon that state's acceptance or rejection of any state law. (No more "denying highway funds unless you change your state laws.")
    2. Amend the Presidential requirements. A person must have been a US citizen for 35 years in order to be qualified for the position of President. Years spent in the military count double up to the person's actual age. (You've legally been here that long? You're a native).
    3. Preservation of Evidence amendment. Destruction of evidence concerning crimes committed by the government or its agents shall constitute admission of guilt; those responsible for the destruction shall face the maximum punishment for the crime. Destruction of evidence that might exonerate a private individual shall constitute admission of that individual's innocence, and admission of guilt for obstruction of justice by the official responsible; those responsible for the destruction shall face the maximum punishment for the crime in question. (No more of this "accidentally deleted the files" BS, no more camera confiscations).

    June 20, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  19. TjinMO

    not surprising, coming from a socialist like zakaria. How about we just get people to FOLLOW the constitution before we change it.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  20. David


    Fareed, you are an ignorant jackass. Our Constitution is what made us the greatest nation in the world! Despite what your lackey Obama says, or apologizes for.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:03 pm>>>>>>>>Please attack the President in a different post!!!

    June 20, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  21. hippo

    I think the individual states should have their own laws and regulations over everything concerning them. Then have the federal government just to decide war and protection over all the states and keep them all unified.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Reply
  22. MatterofLiberty

    Imo, Simply making a ballot initiative process available for voters on a federal level (as well as the rest of the states that dont currently have it), would solve the problem of giving more power to the people, as well as allow Fed Government to still oversee topics that the public did not show enough interest in to garner attention for the Initiative process.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Reply
  23. Tony W

    Fareed, the institutions you knock as being undemocratic (the U.S. Senate, the electoral college) are what makes us such a long lasting republic. Do you really think a country as large in area as the United States would have lasted as long as it has if it was a pure democracy? Can you name a pure democracy (of any size) that has lasted longer than 50 years?

    June 20, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Reply
  24. Lori

    Just to summarize the posts here. Most people want one of two options;

    1. The current constitution amended to reflect the fact that only they are aware of the underlying moral truths in the world.

    2. A term limited, proportionally representative, legislatively dominated, legally limited in spending, and legally limited in taxing government that implements the social policy that they believe (insert one or more: God intended/meets humanist standards/is tailored to specifically benefit me). Sort of an absolutist representative government that presumes the moral standards of the poster are the TRUTH.

    That is why we have the current system.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Reply
    • tepeters

      Very good. Now you know why the founders had a devil of a time writing the thing to the point that the original version of the constitution sanctioned slavery and counted Afro-Americans only as two-thirds a human being. And they idealized the Roman Republic with its system of checks and balances to the extent that they did not take into account that the political gridlock caused by strict division of powers and checks and balance of power allowed for the rise of the Caesars and the imperial state out of frustration at not being able to get things done. Poltical gridlock does sound familair doesn't it?

      June 20, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Reply
      • tepeters

        Oh a correction Afro-Americans were counted only as three-fifths of a human.

        June 20, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  25. Zigman Bird

    It's sad but we (The Good Ole US of A) will blow ourselves up sometime.. Just like Heston said "YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! OH, DAMN YOU! GODDAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Reply
  26. Jeff Prather

    I don't think Zakaria is calling for a few minor revisions or updates, he is calling for an overhaul. He fails to recognize that the reason that we have two chambers in the Congress, the House and the Senate, is precisely to address both the need for larger states to have proportional representation while not allowing smaller states to be eclipsed by larger ones. It is a way to limit both the tyranny of a majority and the tyranny of a small elite. Why revise what works? So what is really being suggested here?

    He cites the technological backwardness of the era of the founding fathers as reason for revision. But has he read their own writings? Has he read the Federalist Papers? Their grasp of political history far exceeds the typical politician, conservative or progressive, today. That is why the Constitution has endured. A populist document constructed on the web is not going have the same success, but more importantly- it is not going to protect our freedoms!

    June 20, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Reply
  27. Will

    1. Term Limits (standard term lengths) (max of 32 yrs of federal elected service)
    President – 2 terms (8 yrs)
    Senate – 2 terms (12 yrs)
    Congress – 6 terms (12 yrs)

    2. Campaign finance reform
    Limits on personal AND organizational donations. All donations to any candidates or organization commenting on election must be disclosed. NO anonymous donations. Money is NOT free speech. Saying it is, is like saying Bill Gates has more of a right to free speech than I do.

    3. Congressional rules
    no anonymous holds on bills. You have the right and duty to vote your mind in congress but not to remain silent about it, and if your gonna filibuster, your gonna filibuster! Mister smith goes to Washington style!

    June 20, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Reply
  28. Kim

    I'd request a right for everyone to bear arms. Wait. You say it's already IN the Constitution? Then why is it illegal in some states for honest, loyal Americans to carry a firearms? Are we really defending ourselves from all enemies foreign and domestic? Maybe 4 people in Long Island, NY would still be alive if they were allowed to defend themselves against armed junkies.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Reply
    • Will

      The states have the right to decide who has guns. Don't like NY laws? Don't go to NY. Where did the "armed junkie" get the gun in the first place? Either stolen from someone who didn't secure it properly or bought in a state with weak gun laws and transported to NY. I don't wanna take your gun away but I don't think we should hand them out like Halloween candy either.

      June 20, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Reply
    • Alex S

      The right to bear arms is another one of the stupid distractions of US politics. It's an issue that really affects almost no-one, but people base their vote on it. How many incompetent politicians have been voted into place because they filled checkbox requirements like "believing" in the right to bear arms, or the opposite?

      I try to choose who to vote for based on who I think will do the best job at the government's main role – taxing and spending responsibly. The right to bear arms is a marginal issue that has been blown up to try and attract people to one party or the other without having to demonstrate that those parties are actually good at running things.

      June 20, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Reply
    • Don

      It is (supposed to be) the right to bear arms in the US Constitution, and should be followed unequivocally. There should be no restrictions whatsoever! Not even for convicted felons, for they need to protect themselves too (usually from each other).

      Likewise, there should be no preferential treatment, or protected status, of any other citizen, PARTICULARLY POLICE, over another citizen. If you're going to carry a gun and shoot at someone, be prepared for them to shoot back (and allow them to do so), and possibly die, without reprisal for either party.

      How many people, armed or unarmed, have died from cop bullets because the police are "protected" from doing so? It is major felonies to shoot back at a cop. I don't care what the person has done, or is doing, they still have an inalienable basic human right to protect their life, and are barred from doing so by law.

      Even the playing field and ABOLISH ALL LAWS RELATED TO GUN CONTROL, in compliance with the mandates of the US Constitution!

      For those wondering, I don't personally like guns, don't own one, never have, and probably never will. But, I am sworn to uphold, defend, and protect the US Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic. Gun control laws fly in the face of the US Constitution, and therefore makes them, by their existence, an enemy thereof.

      June 20, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Reply
  29. brian

    The logic of the Electoral College is the same as for having the Senate. If people want rule of popular vote then they should get rid of the Senate also. However, as the Great Compromise illustrates, we are a nation of separate states with separate interests. Oh wait, lets just have Texas, California, and New York decides what's best for all of us...Not to seem disrespectful, but how "American" is Fareed. I don't know much about him, but he seems more globally oriented than American.–

    June 20, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Reply
  30. elizabeth in sacramento

    3 amendments I'd like to see are: 1) a strict environmental policy (energy & food production) which protects Earth's resources & humans. 2) all corporations limited in campaign financing. 3)health care by public option, no restrictions on American purchase of pharmaceuticals from other countries. + if I could have a 4th, it'd be--any lifestyle that doesn't physically harm another should be tolerated (gay, cigaret & pot smokers, trans-gendered people, obese, etc).

    June 20, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Reply
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