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 And, anyway, they felt the document was old and outdated, drafted all the way back in 1944.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

    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>>>>>>>>>>>yeah sure go back to sleep, like george bush did when for 8 years when terrorist brought down building and our economic laws were written by wall street...sorry pal george bush slept for 8 years and Americans need to wake up! what a lost decade!!! in blood and treasure...

    June 20, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Reply
  2. Lawrence Schrupp

    Here are the 3 changes I would make:

    1. Abolish the electoral college, making all presidential elections nationwide, with every vote counting equally.

    2. Abolish the senate, giving all of its powers to the House of Representatives.

    3. Change congressional elections for the remaining House to occur every 4 years, 2 years after the presidential election.

    Making the first two changes would eliminate the disproportionate, undemocratic influence that some states (i.e. small ones) have on the electoral and legislative processes. Making the third will free representatives from the non-stop campaign cycle they now inhabit, giving them the leeway to occasionally vote based on what's best for the nation, instead of what is most likely to get them re-elected.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Reply
  3. Mario Lorie

    If you don't agree or like the United States Constitution then you should move to Iceland!!!!

    June 20, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Reply
  4. Nathan L

    1. Nobody may donate to a political candidate unless they are eligible to vote in the jurisdiction in which that candidate is seeking office.

    2. Nobody may donate to an organization that lobbies or donates to political campaigns unless that organization has a physical office in the Congressional district the individual is eligible to vote in. That office must employ one full time individual at a salary that is sufficient to cover their cost of living.

    3. No organization shall lobby on an issue unless it can demonstrate that 75% or more of its funding is provided by 50% or more of its members and that no single member withing that portion of its membership donates more than twice the mean donation the organization receives.

    4. All organizations that lobby shall keep a list of their members including the donations these members make to the organization. This list shall be public and available at least one physical location in each congressional district the organization operates in. It shall list all members activities within the last five years or longer. Only members can donate to an organization.

    Basically this would get rid of any organizations donating to political campaigns as long as we prevent organizations from voting. While it would not get rid of lobbying it does make it so that organizations seeking to influence policy have a broader level of support, essentially it would limit organizations with names like 'People for Issue X' that are often backed entirely by the money of one or a few people. These organizations could still exist but they couldn't lobby. If they were able to lobby it would be rather obvious they were phony.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Reply
  5. John

    I thought Al Gore invented the constitution?

    June 20, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Reply
  6. KES

    Regarding the electoral college, one-man-one-vote would work and would be representative of the entire country if every citizen were required by law to vote and we ensured that every citizen's vote was collected and included. However, in America freedom is cherishsed and defended, and the right of a person to not vote is supported as well. Since we cannot guarantee that every citizen will vote (nor should we) we need a representative form of voting to ensure that equal representation of states is upheld. After all we are a Union of States, not individuals. However, this doesn't mean an amendment can't be made to the constitution. As someone stated before, it is designed to be amended, but in a way that ensure passing whims and fancies are not put into it. Difficulty in amending it is of utmost importance. Another thing is that states have the flexibility to pass laws that govern how their electoral votes are derived. Get involved in local politics so you can ensure that your vote counts!

    June 20, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Reply
  7. Mark Mywords

    It should be revised to allow only a percentage of people from certain religions as we have an over representation of jews in too many previous administrations. Also the 14th amendment needs to be revised so these same jews in government don't try to ruin the heritage of America by flooding it with 3rd world people. It really should be illegal for a dual citizen (israeli) to serve in our government at all!!!!!

    June 20, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Reply
  8. Peter E

    I love how many people claim to be 'original intent' followers. Our Founding Fathers were slave owners, and even the next century the great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln said (yes, he actually said it, you can look it up) that while he wanted to free slaves, he never intended for them to be recognized as voting citizens with the same rights as whites. And forget about women's rights! Those didn't come about until 1920!
    The original intent of our Founding Fathers stopped after the first ten Amendments! Demanding that the Constitution be interpreted with 'original intent' in mind is impossible and downright ridiculous!

    June 20, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Reply
    • Kim

      Women don't have equal rights. The ERA has been shot down to this day. Women have the right to vote but otherwise nothing in the Constitution specifies that they must be treated equally.

      June 20, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Reply
    • valpokoz

      good point.
      As you have pointed out, the constitution has been amended. Maybe not how the founding fathers intended, but they did allow for it. Without it, would we still have slavery?

      June 20, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Reply
    • juan Bobo

      I love how many people claim to know what 'original intent' was or claim that it's not a living document. I bet they'd balk at the idea that the only arms they have a right to bear are muskets. These are the same people who think the 10th amendment grants autonomy to the States. @Kim: You might want to peruse the 14th amendment. I think it applies to women considering that women are both persons and citizens.

      June 20, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Reply
  9. states govern themselves

    Federal government is only responsible for what is delineated in the document – no need to change , son.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Reply
  10. Mark Mywords

    Yes small revisions are needed. It should be revised to allow only a percentage of people from certain religions as we have an over representation of jews in too many previous administrations. Also the 14th amendment needs to be revised so these same jews in government don't try to ruin the heritage of America by flooding it with 3rd world people. It really should be illegal for a dual citizen (israeli) to serve in our government at all!!!!!

    June 20, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Reply
  11. Mark D

    @valpokoz: 1st: The United States 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.

    Good point. People forget that. Something else people forget? The constitution before this one (yes, this is the second one) defined a confederation and was generally more of a democracy. A little too much. The courts and legislatures were pretty much useless.

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

    David – If Bush slept for eight years, than why is Obama continuing many of his policies, including the War on Terror in Afganistan and the Bush tax credits? Because they were successful. By the way, why aren't you outraged that Obama went back on two campaign promises; war and taxes? He's also attacking countries without consulting or even telling congress. Yeah, you gotta hand it to those democratic presidents. You voted for him, I sure didn't. You wanted him, you got him!!!!

    June 20, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Reply
    • Peter G

      John – please. Obama has not continued these two wars because they are or ever were successful – he has systematically reduced the efforts for the purpose of withdrawal in the case of Iraq, and brought to war in Afghanistan to the point of mission completion the last administration was unable to achieve and is now making arrangements for that withdrawal as well. As far as the Bush tax benefits – this was a bargaining measure to appeal to the GOPs demands as a compromise, one he has pledged not to support again. And a quick review of the War Powers Act will show he did not act outside of his authority in the case of Libya. Read the stipulations of that treaty, not the misinterpretation as presented by the GOP and Fox News propaganda machine. Please get your facts right. Further, anyone who expected full recovery of the global economic crash created by the last administration to be corrected two years after it began considering it's full damage was still being tallied well into the Obama administration's tenure.is delusional.

      June 20, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Reply
    • Paul

      John, Obama doesn't need to consult congress. Congress forfeit that requirement under the Patriot Act.

      June 20, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Reply
  13. Hurricane Expert

    The constitution is just fine the way it is. Move to Iceland is you hate this country and take all of the complaining liberals with you.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Reply
  14. McLarson

    Not everyone has access to the internet...

    June 20, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Reply
    • McLarson

      And anyway, imagine how horrible our constitution would be if it was written by the people who normally comment on online articles and youtube pages! We would definitely have a larger portion of the constitution written in all caps, haha

      June 20, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Reply
  15. MC

    My thoughts on revisions of the Constitution. I think overall it has worked just fine for the past 222 years. but could go for some updating. One amendment that I would like to see is term limits for all public office just as the Presidents 2 terms then that’s it no holding an office for 30 or 40 years!!! Second amendment. No adding special interest legislation to a bigger piece of legislation so that some Senator or Representatives 3rd nephew gets his college tuition paid for. (That last portion was an example not taken from any fact at all) I was hoping the example would help explain my point.
    Third amendment would be a 10% income (not sure what the percentage would be the 10% is also just and example) across the board for everyone business everything regardless no deductions you bring in $100 you pay $10.
    and that is how I would make a start to a change in the Constitution not necessarily right or wrong just my opinion which the constitution gives me the right to.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Reply
    • ck1721

      Simple changes but effective. I like the way you think. If we could actually get people talking about it, term limits and flat tax rates with no loopholes would eliminate the majority of party politics. What legislation do you pass if you know that your term is up next year and you have no means to grease the pockets of your consituents? The simplest answer is usually the right one...now let's just get more people on board 🙂

      June 20, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Reply
  16. OldLady

    One major change that would make a great difference:
    Change the term of the presidency to 6 years, limited to one term. That would eliminate the need for the incumbent to raise money for reelection, and enable him/her proceed with an agenda without having to fear displeasing some group or other.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Reply
  17. Don in Delaware

    The only right we seem to agree on anymore is the right to disagree. And we disagree on EVERYTHING... with increasingly vicioius debate, nebulous misinformation and endless footdragging that mired down healthcare reform and will certainly kill any meaningless progress on the debt ceiling, Medicare and Social Security reform.

    We have a broken system of two parties that won't do anything for fear of ruining everyone's chances of getting elected... except complain about each other. People are running for offices years ahead of elections, spending millions upon millions, fending off scandals like paparazzi... all to the point where no one actually level-headed and qualified enough to do the job will ever run for it.

    How on Earth can we accomplish something as grand and historic as modernizing our Constitution?

    June 20, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Reply
  18. Phil in KC

    I like the ideas that some of the Icelanders came up with, although I don't think shark-finning, as wrong as it may be, rises to the level of constitutional law. I also like the idea of abolishing the electoral college. It has out-lived its reason for being. That said, I do not like the idea of scrapping the constitution and starting over. It has served us well all these years. Besides, we could never agree. Look at the great disparity in political viewpoints in the country today.
    In any case, I would not have a voice. I don't belong to Twitter or Facebook and rarely look at You Tube. I guess my vote would be disenfranchised – as would many others.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Reply
  19. jturgeon

    Exactly what pert of the Constitution needs to be changed or deleted so much that we have to start again? Huh?

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

      part*

      I'd prefer the wisdom of the founding fathers, without preference to environmentalism or industry, rich or poor, and so on, to the heavily left or right leaning politicians of today.

      June 20, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Reply
  20. Jason

    I am very unhappy with the misprint in the original 2nd Amendment, It is written
    "the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." when it was obviously meant to read
    "the right of the People to keep and ARM BEARS shall not be infringed."

    June 20, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Reply
  21. ck1721

    We are a representative republic, not a straight democracy, so get rid of the idea of one man, one vote. Revisions are fine but they take a lot of support and are rarely done. The reason Iceland is re-doing there is because it sucks. The reason ours is so great is that it actually allows for change (Hence the amendments) and established checks and balances to keep any person or branch of government from becoming too poweful. If you want a "re-do" then move to iceland. I'll take our imperfections and focusing on keeping our core values alive.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Reply
  22. rizzo

    I'd hate to see the common man be allowed to make suggestions on how to change the US Constitution. Look at what it's done to California...

    June 20, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Reply
  23. Mikie

    LEAVE IT ALONE AND LEARN TO LIVE BY IT.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Reply
  24. Ed - Chicago

    Three amendements I would offer:
    1) ALL legislation must be passed by a recorded electronic or paper vote by roll call as a stand alone bill. (no more christmas tree loading any bills with junk unrelated to the bill....i.e...one topic, one bill and no more amendments and they must record each individual vote, no hiding any legislators vote)
    2) Abolish the electoral college and the majority vote winner really wins.
    3) CLEARLY and FIRMLY establish the seperation of church and state in ALL Matters.
    4) If I were allowed a 4th – All representative may serve no more than 4 two year terms, no senator more than 2 six year terms and ALL to be elected with public funds each getting the same amount of money (including the President) and the election cycle may be no longer than 6 months from beginning to end including primaries)

    June 20, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Reply
  25. George Washington

    The people who wrote the U.S. Constitution were geniuses. 99.9% of people on twitter are not.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Reply
  26. Kurt

    Our new Constitution should start: "We, the People of Congress, in order to further our own self worth and well being . . ." At least then we'd remove the smoke and mirrors.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Reply
  27. citizenUSA

    Some may remember that I've been saying this for years since there has been controversies over terrorism and immigration. It seems those of us born citizens or naturalized get the short end of the stick. Anyone who steps on our soil is an American? Come here, have a baby and all the relatives are Americans? I know it's not that loose but I'm pretty close. Again, my argument is, how could people forming a new country over 200 years ago, as intelligent as they were, forsee all of what is happening in the world today? We can still hold on to those "truths that are self-evident" or whatever, without giving our country away or causing it's decline. We just need to close the holes and make things more clear.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Reply
  28. Matt

    I don't think you are qualified to even attempt to write about changing the Constitution. You are obviously an idiot. The majority of Americans don't even come close to the intellect of our Founders. And if we don't base a new document on God's influence (which we wouldn't, due to said idiots), then it WILL NOT come close to being as perfect as our current one.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:54 pm | Reply
  29. jturgeon

    "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."

    That's exactly why the House of Representatives was created. Senate has 2 for being in the union, meaning that states are equal to each other in importance, and the other house to represent on population.

    June 20, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Reply
  30. Jim

    I would revamp voting. Voting is great and and we need it, but there are a couple of problems. One is voting is largely a popularity contest, just like in high school. The better looking, more charismatic person wins, not the most qualified. Part of the problem is that it is very difficult to come by q point by point, objective comparison of all the candidate with all the data, voting history, views, campaign financing, resume, etc. This should be required by law in easily accesible form, web site and publication on all candidates. They candidates should have to answer the tough questions for the record when they campaign. The other problem is campaign financing. It should be eliminated, no person or entity can contribute to a campaign via soft or hard money, only public money can be used. This would help prevent influence by outside forces on campaigns and limit the amount of propoganda that the candidates issue.

    The other problem is that the people that vote are not always representative of the population so candidates cater to the people who vote. Now you might say that if people don't vote it's their own fault, well this is true, but in the end it doesn't help anyone. Represetatives need to represent all the people in their district/state not just those that vote. If all people do not have equal representation then the whole system fails. I'm not quite sure the best answer for this, but maybe a large random sample of the population could be chosen to vote each election instead of everyone voting? Sort of like a super large jury?

    June 20, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Reply
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