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 And, anyway, they felt the document was old and outdated, drafted all the way back in 1944.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. Polymath

    The Constitution is not broken – the "interpretation" of the constitution is what has buried us ... all we need to do is knock down this ridiculous house of cards built by self-serving politicians and activist judges so that we can go back to the original intent of The Document. State's rights and limits on Congress should be priority number one. If I could make only one change to the way we "do business", it would be shorter terms and very strict term limits – like 3 year terms (House, Senate, and President) and 2 terms maximum (6 years total) – lifetime. Some argue that this does not give politicians enough time to build relationships and "coalitions". My answer: EXACTLY!

    June 20, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Reply
  2. Beki

    The House of Representatives was established to represent the people. The Senate was established to represent the states. Before the passage of the amendment (16th, I think) that allowed senators to be elected, senators were appointed by the states' legislatures. Electoral College voters were elected to vote for president. It had nothing to do with plurality of the votes in each state. Also, the person coming in second place was to be Vice President, not elected as a "ticket" to serve with the elected president. Many times there were idealistic differences. At the time of the establishment of the Constitution, our founding fathers were learned and enlightened men who were fully aware of the crumbling and failing of democracies; hence, we became a republic. Since the passage of the amendment allowing senators to be elected by popular vote, we have lost our republic. You can thank Woodrow Wilson, Karl Marx, and all the liberals/progressives for this. Zakaria, you are an ignorant dunce.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Reply
  3. David

    well you can thank the Republicans for pushing for for corporations to have the same righs as human beings......wouldnt the corporations today just love to re-write the US constition???......as for Fareed his books on a post American world stinks!!!! America is the world!!!!

    June 20, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Reply
  4. John

    You're all nuts to think that sitting here talking about it is going to change anything. The US of A may be a republic now, but we're on a meteoric rise to socialism. We are climbing past 35% taxation and rising, and we have become a nation this far too dependent upon the government for everything. Once taxes have reached around 65% to 70%, the transformation to Socialism will be complete. The farce that is the two-party system has us so busy screaming and blaming each other, we're too busy to see the real larceny going on under our noses. Our government doesn't give a rat's behind about us, and the sooner everyone realizes it, the better off they'll be.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Reply
  5. JeezyCreezy

    If a war (or any military conflict) lasts longer than 12 months, then a military draft comes into effect. People are chosen at random from the electoral register to serve for 3 years.

    Once the sons and daughters of those wealthy families who profit from wars start dying, we will see conflicts will get resolved much more quickly – if they ever start at all.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Reply
    • Will

      If were gonna do a draft then make it so that the children/grandchildren of ALL federally elected officials must serve. No desk jockey position on some base in the Midwest either. Front line with everybody elses kids.

      June 20, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Reply
  6. Thinker67

    One thing the founding fathers were willing to do when they created the constitution. They were willing to die for what it stood for. Do any of you have any ideas you would be willing to put forth that you would die for? If not then it is the height of hubris to assume you know better than someone that staked their fortunes, families and lives to create this founding document. Above all people, the politicians would LOVE to see the constitution changed because it limits their power. And once they start changing it, then it is only a matter of time before the constitution becomes a document of the politicians, by the politicians for the politicians instead of a document of, by and for the people.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Reply
  7. Eric L

    the only thing that really needs to be changed is our election system. With the two party system we have now it's just voting for the lesser of two evils. If a third party candidate shows up people won't vote for them because what we're doing most the time is vote against who we don't want. It is time to switch to an IRV system (instant runoff voting).

    June 20, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Reply
  8. An embarassment to CNN.

    Fareed, typically I appreciate your content and it is well researched, but this article seems to be taken from a perspective of someone who has never attended a basic poli-sci class to understand the why of constitutional design. The more I read CNN's articles of late the more I wonder if anyone is part of the screening at all in the editorial and opinion columns other than the authors.

    If you want to re-write the constitution and re-write the balance of the powers between the states.. then I wish you luck with getting any hope for re-ratification of the document. It simply won't happen. The United States is not a PURE democracy. We are a Republic which stands for its people and member states. Pure democracy will not work here and would result in a dissolution of the Union. Perhaps if you had studied any part of constitutional history before you made this article, you would understand that.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Reply
  9. constitution is a federal power limiting document

    we only needed 27 changes because all other issues are to be dealt with by States themselves. Iceland is a little different, son.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Reply
  10. GC

    Is should not be 'easy' to change the constitution. Look an the lame brains in Washington. You want to make it easier for people like this to change our most basic document? Not on your life. WE THE PEOPLE in the form of 2/3rds of the States have to apporove those changes. Keep it that way!

    June 20, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Reply
  11. I am Some Dude on the Internet

    Too many of you people simply don't understand voting theory (make that all of you). Ken Arrow proved a nasty little theorem that basically says: give me 3 options and there is no way to rank them consistently so that they respect a few natural properties. These properties are (i) if everyone prefers option Y then so does society; (ii) the presence of option Z, if not preferred by anyone to either X or Y, should not matter; (iii) no single voter determines the outcome. This little theorem says basically that a majority vote system does not guarantee a good outcome.

    It is time you people got up to speed.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Reply
    • Who is repeating old news.

      “Democracy without education is hypocrisy without limitation.” —Iskander Mirza

      June 20, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Reply
  12. RF

    Updated? NO. The rights discussed are fundamental in nature, that are just as valid today as they were centuries ago.

    If there is any doubt in this truth, ask yourself this – Who would be doing the revisions?

    Who do you trust more? Today's politicians or the enduring wisdom of the Founding Fathers?

    Do questions like these even need to be seriously asked?

    June 20, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Reply
    • Thing55

      The founding fathers were just yesterday's politicians. Of course we need to update the Constitution. Women still do not have equal rights in this country since the ERA was never ratified. Money is poisoning our democracy. Should tobacco companies be able to make a profit from causing more than 400,000 premature deaths in the U.S. each year? There is work to do and changes that should be made. Those who are smug in the belief that we don't need to change – whether that applies to the individual or our country – will never realize their full potential.

      June 20, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Reply
      • Thinker67

        Spoken like a true follower of Chairman Mao just prior to the great leap forward. Instead of corporations they were capitalists, instead of ERA it was economic equality and gold as the root of all evil. The battle cry for change is truly rousing but Beware of anyone in a FREE country that runs or professes on a platform of CHANGE–politically speaking it is never for the better. I'll give you 4 examples: Jimmy Carter, Pol Pot, Mao Tze Dong, Barak Obama. A platform of "CHANGE" means "I've got no real ideas but I'm hoping a bunch of you are dissatisfied, self-loathing, ignorant or feeling guilty enough to vote for me."

        June 20, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Thing55

      Thinker67: "Spoken like a true follower of Chairman Mao just prior to the great leap forward." So I bring up the fact that women don't have equal rights under the Constitution and I lament the deaths from cigarettes, and you equate me to a follower of Chairman Mao? Wow. No hyperbole there. I notice you also lumped Carter and Obama in with Pol Pot. Pathetic.

      June 20, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Reply
  13. David

    according to Fareed america has to innovate....if we are so lacking in innovation....why is the American Army the most powerful the world has ever known???? Fareed can take his anti American ideas and shove em'..

    June 20, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Reply
    • Curt

      I fail to see how a = 39 there, David...

      June 20, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  14. Aaron

    I have never seen such a gross display of nationalism in my life. This article was posted to prompt an educated debate and has turned to a low brow, name calling message thread. America is a great country but any reasonable person can identify areas in which it is not the greatest. It digusts me to see such closed mindedness at the mere suggestion of changing an antiquated and often inefficient system. So much could be done in this country if people were not so exceptionally proud af the title of being American and the freedoms that go with living here without educating themselves on the issues we are facing. I belive many of these comments prove that "America is the greatest no matter what" sentiment.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Reply
    • Replier

      there should be a like and dislike button for these posts. But I agree with you, Middle America is completely antiquated voting solely on the words of 2000 year old book, which they have most likely never read...only heard interpreted by homosexual clergy who was too busy molesting some poor alter boy, so by contrast a 200 year old document interpreted by faithless uneducated career politicians seems pretty relevant and spot on to them. And Fareed is possibly one of the smartest persons to grace your television screen, that is why he knows Obama and Bush on a first name basis and you(middle America) do not.

      June 20, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Reply
    • Mike

      It's not antiquated. Where it falls down is usually where it has been bastardized. It is purposely inefficient in that it was designed to keep the fefderal government weak.

      June 20, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Reply
  15. victim of democrat hypocrisy

    The electoral system and the 2 senators for each state rule prevents states with large populations from usurping all the power.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Reply
  16. John

    David. Go back to sleep. Obama has been a bigger friend to corporate America than any Republican president has been. Besides, the Office of the President, and I don't mean the man, is just driving the machine towards the one-world government goal of the Goldman-sachs of the world.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Reply
  17. Ken Barlow

    The President, Senators and Representatives should all be elected by poplar vote doing away with the electoral college. The President, Senators and Representatives should all be elected in the same election year for one 6 year term. They should receive an hourly rate for the hours spent in Washington conducting government business.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Reply
    • Josh

      Congress is not elected by the electoral college...but by popular vote from thier states or districts...

      June 20, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Reply
  18. Matt

    If we didn't have the electoral college then Gore would have been President instead of W and we wouldn't have been in the mess that we are in right now. Sounds pretty good to me!

    June 20, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Reply
  19. Jon O

    America could learn something...

    This is actually for the people, by the people.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Reply
  20. Josh

    Its ridiculous for someone who obtained his american citizenship by amendements made to the consitution to argue that the document is outdated...What a complete crock...He hasn't said anything intellectually stimulating to me, but he went to harvard and therefore he is in. its that simple. What a sham..

    June 20, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Reply
  21. vegas01

    If there were a need to revise the Constitution, we already have the mechanism to do so. It is called an amendment.

    The fact that amendments for certain items that would further dissolve the foundation of our nation and the liberties afforded its citizens by limiting government's powers and reserving powers to the People.

    The only reason to venture down the path described in this article would be to redistribute power from the People and States to the federal government. This action would bring to an end the unique liberties our forefathers fought to gain and preserve for their posterity.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Reply
  22. jc

    Just what we need...The United States Corporate Constitution.

    Face facts, if we let these corrupt politicians get there hands on that document it will be high bidder wins on every issue down the line.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Reply
  23. valpokoz

    1st: The United Staes is NOT a democratic system. It is a republic system. There is a difference. The founding fathers set it up this way so that there are checks and balances.
    2nd: As someone pointed out in their post, each state can decide how they want their delegates to the Electoral College distributed. So, for a state, their delegates may be decided on popular vote. Remember, each state is sovereign on many issues: taxes, alcohol, gambling, etc.
    3rd: In another post, someone stated that the election of all other elected officials is based on popular vote. Not true. Govenors in many states are based on an electoral college type system similar to the president.
    4th: A possible scenario: If a president is elected based on strictly a national popular vote, a candidate could promise the 15 most populist states that their taxes would be zero and the other 35 states would support them. If 80% of people in those states voted for the candidate, they would win the popular vote.
    I am sure other more drastic scenarios could be thought up.
    My opinion: The current system works.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Reply
  24. Robert Sandy

    The first amendment needs to be to limit the authority and spending ability of Congress by eliminating all discretionary spending and making hard lines on deficeit spending
    which are subject to automatic cuts when certain triggers are reached. If you take the money out of congresses hands you make congress behave. This act would also put all members of congress on a pay for performance scale that ties their compensation to their ability to legislate and keep costs down. Also what is covered in the federal budget should be consolidated.

    The second amendment would be the national policing act which would consolidate the Federal agencies currently doing a broad range of activites to one. This way every officer would be aware of counter terroism, immigration, drug enforcement, white collar crime,alcohol tobacco and firearms and others.This
    way should the need arise for more agents in one area or another it becomes a deployment issue not a hiring issue. We cost account
    our problems with each problem being a cost center instead of seeing its all crime that needs to be fought.Also federally fund community policing nationwide to help to implement cops walking the neighborhoods again in an effort
    to starve off problems instead of reacting to them. Also a series of regional data centers to perform CSI work for state and local police to lower the costs of fighting crime.

    Third amendment infrastructure reform which would essentially cover all 13kv and higher power distribution networks,road,rail,air,school costs.This would be funded annually automatically with preference going to maintenance of existing infrastructure
    over building new infrastructure. This way the national power grid would be upgraded to a state that wouldn't allow a single utility company to black out a large area. This also is important in case of a terrorism attack to try to mitigate damage to larger areas. This act would nationalize the current interstate system
    but instead provide a rational national infrastructure maintenance instead of waiting 20 years and rebuilding roads. Rail would be a little different as all of the rail lines would be nationalized for to effectively move freight and passengers at the lowest costs. The existing owners of the lines would still operate the trains and freight business
    but would pay a trackage fee which would pay for passenger rail. The current owners of the tracks would not have to pay maintenance fees for the tracks and should be able to make more money just operating the trains. This way freight lines could be moved to prevent hazardous materials from transiting populated areas and to pave the way for high speed
    passanger and freight rail. High speed freight being defined as any non hazardous or bulk material would be shipped at speeds over 100 mph. Currently trucks are transiting the chunnel at higher speeds than this so it is possible. Also more freight by rail lowers roadway rebuilding costs. Finally schools should be included in this to provide computers,security equipmentand buildings.the states will not have the money and this simply spreads the investment
    on our children nationally so it is less per person.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  25. juan Bobo

    There's not one commentator here who possesses 1/10 the intellect that Fareed Zakaria possesses, and I find it at once sad and comical that so many here think that they do.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Reply
    • Is he?

      Then he needs to demonstrated it by showing in his article that he realizes that the House of Representatives was in fact made for the very purpose he intends the senate to operate. If we did things in the manner he proposed, congress would immediately become redundant and half the lessor represented states would probable cede from the Union.

      June 20, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Reply
      • juan Bobo

        Perhaps you should research where the idea of a bicameral congress came from. (You can start with The Iroquois.)
        The current structure of the Senate was a compromise to satisfy smaller states that feared lack of representation, but, as the author points out, there were only 13 states at the time. If you really believe that any of you are telling him anything he didn't already know, you're delusional.

        June 20, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Come on CNN!

      It is not that people here think that they have more intellect than the author, and it really doesn't seem as though anybody has attacked his overall intellect. The criticism that he is receiving is for the statements that he made in THIS article. Don't make blanket statements about people you don't know and the intellect that they possess. Anybody with computer access can reach cnn.com meaning that there is a good chance that there are intellectual people displaying their thoughts. Just because he has impressive credentials does not mean that we have to agree with what he writes, he displayed an overall lack of understanding about what he was talking about in this article.

      June 20, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Reply
      • juan Bobo

        Well no one has displayed any great intellect in this thread, and that's what my statement was based upon. Again, If you really believe that any of you are telling him anything he didn't already know, you're delusional.

        June 20, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Accusing the reader.

      You do not even know me yet you judge me. That makes you a bigot. I am only commenting on the content expressed by Fareed. It is up to him to accurately convey his intent and if he fails to do that through poor explanation then the fault is not that of the one reading the article. He clearly states and I quote, "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 yet if anyone has taken a basic U.S. Poli-sci course at a university they would understand that is not the purpose of the Senate, but it IS the purpose of the House of Representatives, which is why the house even bears that name. I cannot read into Fareed the intelligence that he is said to possess, he must express it for my understanding and measure.

      June 20, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Reply
      • juan Bobo

        I'm judging the comments I've read here not unknown quantities. Perhaps Mr, Zarkaria is guilty of assuming too much intellect on the part of the reader and could have explained it to you better, but I didn't read it as him not understanding the structure of congress but simply as suggesting that the structure of the Senate is outdated considering the dramatic changes in population over the last 222 years. I'm pretty sure he knows why it was structured that way in the first place. For more read my above responses. I'm tired of repeating myself like a broken record or like all the comments here.

        June 20, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Simply poorly written.

      The simple statement of his words, without any clarification on his part, would indicate he does not know how the U.S. Congress works. You may have the pleasure to assume that, but I assume the intellect of no person, especially one I do not know on a personal basis. It is not the shortfall of the intelligence of the reader to take the publisher of the article at his word. Why should we give him the benefit of the doubt that he understands how our government works when his expressions seem directly to the contrary?

      June 20, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Reply
  26. JLW

    Makes the incorrect assertation that this is most undemocratic... I challenge you to find the word democracy in our Constitution. Further, we were better off when people actually thought of our form of government as a Representative Republic. No, our Constitution needs to be left alone, and defended. Change for the sake of change is what gets us where we are...

    June 20, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  27. Paul

    Americans will cry and complain if anything in the world changes. Look at the reaction whenever Facebook announces they're doing something different.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Reply
  28. this guy is smacked out

    in the tank for Obama, social reform, and redistribution. wants to change all core values, not under our watch.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Reply
  29. David

    In your book, "The Future of Freedom," you write, "America is increasingly embracing a simple-minded populism that values popularity and openness as the key measures of legitimacy. This ideology has necessitated the destruction of old institutions, the undermining of traditional authority, and the triumph of organized interest groups, all in the name of 'the people.' The result is a deep imbalance in the American system, more democracy but less liberty" (p. 162). So why are you suddenly concerned that the Senate is undemocratic?

    June 20, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Reply
  30. Mark D

    "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."

    I'm struggling with where to start with this statement. The HOUSE is designed to represent population shifts while the SENATE is.designed.to.give.small STATES like Rhode Island an equal voice. Have you ever studied how and why the Congress was organized as it was? A bicameral Congress balances BOTH needs but you only focus on one side of the issue. The "one man, one vote" concept has nothing to do with the states; it has to do with individual citizens.

    The current technology of travel – horses or cars – or rural or urban has no bearing on this discussion.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Reply
    • Curt

      It was a topic to encourage discussion on the off chance the nation that prides itself on "democracy" wants to be an actual democracy. He's aware the Senate is not set up to be democratic. Pretty sure he understands how the government works better than you. Move on.

      June 20, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Reply
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