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 And, anyway, they felt the document was old and outdated, drafted all the way back in 1944.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

    Given today's level of intelligence and common sense among the adult population of the US – I suggest leaving it alone. Before you'd blink an eye – it would be full of religious doctrine, anti-anything not "True American"ism and show no compassion for those less privileged or those who believe differently.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Reply
  2. dbh

    Using social media to manage our lives and affairs? Maybe you advocate having Anthony Weiner lead the way. How did that work for him? Maybe the author of this article would be better served writing fantasy movie reviews rather than delve in such important issues as US History and affairs.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Reply
  3. SgtRock95023.

    Wait a DAMN minute! You have a muslim coming to our country informing Americans whose familys have been here since the beginning, telling us that it is time to update our constitution? I say; "America, love it or leave it"! We do not need foriegnors telling us it is time to corupt our constitution. You should be fired be suggesting such a thing!

    June 20, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Reply
    • fdhghgd

      you're racist

      June 20, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Reply
  4. Richard B

    All of you idiots wanting a flat tax rate are killing me. The INCOME TAX began as a single, FLAT tax. If you are going to do anything tax wise, repeal the 16th Amendment (income tax amendment) and institute a National Sales tax via the Fair Tax plan which protects the poor with a monthly rebate and hits the wealthy, those who spend more pay more.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Reply
    • JT

      Numbers prove the middle class pays a higher percentage of income, social security, and other taxes than the upper or lower taxes. We give tax breaks to the lower class and we put a cap on taxes to benefit the upper class. Look at Social Security which is capped at 103,000 taxable income per year. Remove the cap and flatten the percentage out.

      June 22, 2011 at 7:37 am | Reply
  5. Alex Foster

    We NEED the electorial college in the US to make every state's vote count. Why would the President care about Wyoming? They would only care about heavily populated areas. Why not put a nuclear waste site in Montana? The 2000 election showed that Presidential canidates need to care about every state. If Al Gore had won just one more state (including Wyoming, New Hampshire ect) He would have been the president. It makes every state in our Union important not just the large population centers.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Reply
    • Nick

      you have a fundamental misunderstanding of why people want to get rid of the electoral college

      no one should be president without the popular vote. That's counter-inuitive and is evidence of people gaming the system.

      June 20, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Reply
    • Thinker67

      The more I read these responses the more I realize that the contributors are more intelligent than the author of the article.

      June 20, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Reply
  6. Nick

    If a new constitution were to be written (hypothetically), we should DEFINITELY leverage the intelligence of video game system designers/engineers. When I say system i don't mean console, but systems which govern combat etc.

    These engineers spend their entire careers developing abstraction and balance of power between different entities. Their input would be invaluable creating a 3 part system with a series of checks to keep any one part from becoming more powerful than intended (it's safe to say all 3 branches of government are stronger than the constitution writers intended

    June 20, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Reply
    • rob

      While I doubt many people will take you seriously, I think that is a brilliant suggestion. The thing is, any government or system that sounds great "in theory", tends to be "gamable" in practice....that is, people can manipulate it to their interests. That's why we have political parties (people trying to game the tendency of plurality voting reward people with similar values to "pre filter"), lobbying, tax shelters, etc. Just about every problem in government comes from more and more sophisticated attempts to manipulate things in ones' favor. Video game designers, as well as designers of such things as search engines, karma systems, etc deal with this in very sophisticated ways.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Reply
  7. Jerry Johnson

    1st We need an amendment to our constatution that will make this type of capitalistic goverment that we have chosen to become more fair and promissing for the working class citizens. 2nd. We need an admendment to create and guarantee an annual living wage to relieve the uncertany of our citizens post work life. 3rd. An admendment that will make our countrys direction reflect all the people, not just the 51 or 55% of Americans attached to the winning political party.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Reply
    • jenny

      So you would have a system that helps every one fairly, yet the ones who need no help because of good choices in life, and savings would not be apart of your new system, just the ones who screwed up and didn't save nor prepare for old age. Yep that's the lib's fair system. Help the ones who made poor choices, and give the bill to those who made smart choices

      June 21, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Reply
  8. zaglossus

    Do you really trust the populist yahoos of social networking to write a new Constitution that would be an improvement on the old, Fareed?

    June 20, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Reply
    • che-3

      Your name sounds like you're already at a loss.
      Yes, "WE THE PEOPLE" trust the "YAHOO's" social media to re-write the New US Constitution instead of by a bunch of white folks. We as citizens have NO right to stop a 4th or 5th war brewing over the horizon under Obama whilst millions of Americans are suffering, unemployed, school closings, outrageous gas prices and the lists goes on.

      June 20, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Reply
  9. TheyNotHim

    Very simple changes.

    All people get equal protection under that law despite their race, creed, color, nation or state of origin, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation. Period.
    The state and all cults/churches/corporations are to be separate. Only the human citizens of this great land will have a say in what laws are passed. All elections begin and end on a level playing field, with no donations allowed from anybody.
    No taxes are to be collected from those that have little. Our economic system will place the burden of supporting a national government on the backs of those that can afford it and those that benefit most from it.
    The military is to protect the people and is not to be used as a tool of government to pursue religious or economic goals. It must be a direct vote of the people to send troops into conflict.

    Well, that's a start at least...

    June 20, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Reply
  10. che-3

    I have got a good to be considered for the New US Constitution.
    The US Constitution should be AMENDED to give BACK ALL the stolen LANDS BACK to its ORIGINAL OWNERS, aka The Native Americans and ask ALL white folks to go back to where they came from in Europe. They can then re-apply to enter.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Reply
  11. Eric

    It is a birthright of every human being to a full, intact body. This includes a full, intact genital organ. Neonatal circumcision, both male and female, should be illegal in the United States. A full, intact body should be a constitutionally protected right.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Reply
    • Bill

      Nice. "All citizens have a right to foreskin." This is exactly why it needs to be difficult to change the constitution.

      June 20, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Reply
    • che-3

      Hey Buddy! You're crossing a line that should NEVER be crossed.
      I'm FULLY circumcised. What's our problem? Don't envy those of us who are FULLY circumcised. The women LOVVVVVVEEEEEE FULLY circumcised men and not some wacky thing hanging by some coil spring preventing the full bloom of natural mushroom head to be admired. Do you even know the respect you get from women for FULLY circumcised Ice Cream Cone? You're missing out, Buddy. You just jealous!

      June 20, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Reply
  12. Dave

    Never again will we have politicians who were soley focused on ensuring government is restrained. If you open up Washington for a Constitutional update, the amount of Lobbyists and corrupt concepts that will be embedded will make us all wish we never scrapped the only document in the world which empowered the people over the rulers.

    We are the ONLY county where the government is restrained from exerting it's force from the people. Even the UK has power over the people, they just make it look like they are free. In America, we truly are free from government invasion.... which is slowly eroding and has been for years.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Reply
  13. Gary Corcoran

    1st suggested amendment: public financing for political candidates who meet a predetermined minimum number of signatures on a petition for office. Private and corporate donations would be illegal. The cost would be minimal compared to money lost to lobbyists and special interests.

    2nd suggested amendment: a six-year presidency, with no re-election. As it is now, the first 2 years of a first term produce modest accomplishments. The next 2 yield nothing in the face of a run for re-election.

    3rd suggested amendment: Term limits- senators, 3 terms = 18 years; representatives, 9 terms = 18 years. That's enough.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Reply
  14. Sean

    The Constitution of the United States of America is a living document that has changed as it has been needed. The U.S. Constitutaion has survived for over 200 years! The U.S. has the largest economy in the world with a strong millitary, lower taxes then most of the western world, with a very good standard of living. If we need something changed, we can focus on the one item and get the needed votes to make an ammendment.

    I for one support the Republic that we are as opposed to a "true" democracy. A democracy is a wonderful concept, but not everyone can know everything, and in many cases it is BEST that only a few know of things. Example is war time and trading policies. We should have a private strategy with people in office, so that bargaining and winning of wars can occur.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Reply
  15. Tom

    I say we scrap the constitution and start over.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Reply
  16. Gary

    The Constitution was designed not only for majority rule but for the protection of the rights of the minority from an overzellious majority. The make-up of Congress into two houses was designed for just that purpose. Remember this is the United STATES of America, not the United Peoples of America. States with small populations insisted on having equal representation in Congress with larger states. The Senate ensures this equal representation and midigates the power larger states would have over a federal govt.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Reply
  17. citizen

    exactly where does this Fareed Zackass find the nerve to question the American Constitution anyway , I'd like to take away HIS freedom of speach , but alas we can't cause it's in the first amendment to what again??

    June 20, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Reply
  18. Don_J

    Mr. Zakaria, please do not take this personally, but maybe you'd want to ask that question to your country of birth. While our Constitution does have several flaws, it does however have a process to address those flaws, as you may know. Now here is a question for you an anyone who may agree with you... who gets to decide what things are added, taken away or "updated", our politicians... the people who vote or don't vote based on who they like and who's currently winning or who tells the best "lie"? Can you imagine what would happen if you "suggestion" were to even be attempted?

    June 20, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Reply
  19. Stewart

    Doesn't the idea of drafting a Constitution through social media and the internet cut out those who are not adept in those mediums? I thought our concern was giving everyone a voice?

    June 20, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  20. Jeff

    The electoral college has bothered me for a long while. It is conceivable (albeit unlikely) that a candidate can win 13 large states by a single vote each, lose the other 37 states by the millions, and still become elected POTUS.

    I think a better way to do it would be to distribute electoral college votes based on the percentage of popular vote received (may need to do some tricks with rounding...round winner up and loser down, for instance). That way, every vote truly matters. Further, it would require candidates to treat each state with some measure of respect; whether they expected to win the overall state or not.

    During the last election, Obama won 365 electoral college votes to 173 for McCain. That looks like a wipeout. However, based off of percentages, it should have been something more like 285 to 247. Obama still wins, but he'd do so understanding that it was a very close race.

    If both parties had understood how close the election was, perhaps the last 2 years of posturing give way to a more collegial atmosphere.

    Yeah right, who am I kidding.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Reply
  21. fencer61

    The USA is a Republic, we do NOT live in a democracy, nor were we ever intended to. That is the first thing Mr. Zakariah needs to get through his head. The Senate was never intended to have its membership popularly elected , they were supposed to be elected by thier state legislatures, and their job was intended to represent the interest of the state, not the populace.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Reply
  22. martin carroll

    Why would we want to emulate a country that obviously failed, in 1944, to provide a principled Constitution?

    Easy/equitable way to settle this: let's see how well Iceland's new Constitution holds up after a span of...say...222 years.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Reply
  23. ICELAND - is he serious...

    population of 320K. A joke of a comparison. although farred it has a free market economy and a lower taxes than its neighbors what do you think of that, Son.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Reply
  24. David

    America is still the envy of every nation....at its core its our constitution....

    June 20, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  25. George Washington

    ALL of you are a bunch of Monday morning quarterbacks... You have no idea what you are talking about, you are regurgitating information you have read somewhere else. Our creator endowed us with a brain that works quite well if you didnt already know. Why not try using it and posting comments that are your own ideas and not something you read on the internet. We all know you are not intelligent...

    June 20, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  26. Dave

    Put it too rest... the Electorial College is put in place for one thing, so a politician can't say "Elect me and no one in NY, CA, TX FL, and MA will pay taxes, everyone else will"

    Without the electoral college, which balances the needs of each states as equal shares prevents a candidate from favoring only the major states.

    The fact that this is even debated, and with so many comments getting it so wrong, is an example that we need to kill the federal department of education, becuase it isn't working...

    June 20, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  27. ed sr

    Zakaria...........................time for you to GO....................GO BACK where you belong.................go and ride a camel to work..............you and your brethren are really not wanted in this country................

    June 20, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Reply
  28. Hochewa

    Would not it be fun to write a new constitution based on the EU's that is 300 odd pages long with special exemptions that make our tax code look like child's play? I would like to offer up one ammendment: "Congress shall pass no law that does not apply equaly to itself and all citizens"

    June 20, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Reply
  29. HenkV

    Change "We the people" to "We the lobbyists" and the biggest part has been taken care of, though the way I am feeling, that change has already been made, but updating all the old existing copies of the constitution would just be too expensive.

    June 20, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Reply
  30. George Washington

    ALL of you are a bunch of Monday morning quarterbacks... You have no idea what you are talking about, you are regurgitating information you have read somewhere else. Our creator endowed us with a brain that works quite well if you didnt already know. Why not try using it and posting comments that are your own ideas and not something you read on the internet. We all know you are not intelligent... SUCKAS ALL OF YOU ARE SUCKAS

    June 20, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Reply
    • Don_J

      "...Our Creator...", and who would that be, the same creator that allows all of the strife and hunger and war to go on in our lives... or would that be the "Creator" that allows our politicians to steal from us? YOU need to wake up, because things today have changed from whence you'd have them revert.

      June 20, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Reply
      • Confused soul.

        Humanity's overpopulation causes hunger.
        Humanity's overpopulation and acts of evil cause war and shortages.
        This world has everything we need if we didn't act like a cancer.
        A politician's actions are his own fault of his free choice.

        Stop blaming your Creator for the acts of your species. If you had a perfect world, you'd probably complain about there being no challenge and it being boring next.

        June 20, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
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