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 And, anyway, they felt the document was old and outdated, drafted all the way back in 1944.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

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

soundoff (2,350 Responses)
  1. Tim W.

    I do not think it could ever be changed because it would need to be free of religious bigotry (pro and con), it would have to be gender neutral and written where all financial groups are equal...regardless of income or status ! And you know they would be wanting to take away the legally owned weapons of law abiding Americans ! My idea is not to re-do the constitution but to get back to enforceing it as its written.......and lets not keep trying to bend the words to fit desires of a few !

    June 20, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Reply
  2. g.k. boaz

    top 3 conlstitutional amendments required–if we are to reclaim a meaningful majority-rule representative democracy.
    1.abolish private funding of public elections. this would minimize corporate influence and encourage ordinary people with good ideas to run for Congress.
    2. abolish filibuster (for both houses) and any house or senate rule that requires more than a majority vote to enable proposed legislation to reach the floor for a vote or pass proposed legislation.
    3. abolish presidential veto. is one person really smarter than 269? (269 would be the minimum # required to pass legislation in both houses if all members were present and voting yes or no.)

    June 20, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Reply
  3. Bill

    Three things that I would change in the constitution:

    1. Abolish the Electoral College and have a simple, popular vote settle things. If we really are the true democracy we like to think we are, then we should settle all of our elections based on the number of votes. We do it in every other election, why should the President be different? This would also ensure a President or candidate would not be able to take any states for granted or ignore any states, and would have to address the issues in the red/blue states more equally.

    2. Allow non-US born citizens to run for President. I would say anyone who has been a citizen for at least 25 years should be able to run for President.

    3. Term limits for every elected official in federal government, as well as all governors. Two terms for President, three terms for Senators (who would have their terms reduced to four years), and five terms for Congressmen/women. Governors should be limited to four terms as well.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  4. sick&tired

    I think big business and their money grubbing employees (our politicians) have done enough to screw up the USA! They have passed enough laws to destroy our great nation! Now you want to give them an "in" to change the last thing the people have to protect themselves. Change our Constitution? I think CNN's Fareed Zakaria IS NUTS ! Once that door is open our right to free speech and the right to bear arms along with a host of others will be changed forever. WE WILL NO LONGER BE A FREE COUNTRY!

    June 20, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  5. David

    E Connelly

    The Constitution does not need revamping. All of those little bitty amendments that special interests have put on the end of it need to be deleted. Fareed quit being an ignoramous. We know you are a slave to Obama. It's a pity you can't see the forest for the trees.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:33 pm>>>>>>>>the Republicans who fought for and gave corporations the same rights as people are actually the ones chuckling at fareeds idea it would help them complete the decimation of this nation....imagine if the Republicans and corporations were allowed to rewrite the constitution...yikes!!!

    June 20, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Reply
  6. tforliberty

    How about following the constitution for a change? That would result in smaller govt and less opportunity for special interests and crony capitalism. We have our problems today because govt is too big and does too much (badly of course).

    June 20, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Reply
  7. james

    We need to replace the senators with governors. This will save some money and transfer the power to the states. These two group of people are actually representing the same states.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Reply
  8. Ken

    Your article reflects a basic lack of understanding of American history and American government. We have a FEDERAL system in that the states are sovereign and have independent powers. At the time the constitution was written, the colonies were disparate having diverse traditions, interests and economies. The constitution was written to accommodate this situation. If the structure of electoral college and the Senate were altered, it would change the basic structure of our country. I would think that a great deal of thought and public debate would have to occur before that is done.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Reply
    • Jason

      In practical terms, this nation ceased to be a Federation the moment that Lincoln went to war to prevent the Confederate states from seceding. At that point, this became a nation composed of states rather than states joined to form a union.

      June 20, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Reply
  9. Alex Boese

    Just touching on your argument regarding the Senate. It's by design that California has just as many Senators as the state of Wisconsin. Look up the Connecticut Compromise and tally up the number or California Representatives in the House compared to that of Wisconsin, then get back to me.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Reply
  10. Daniel

    It is most assuredly clear that a change in the US constitution is needed. First and foremost the senate should be made to look like the Bundesrat in Germany. What we have now is a system in which there are two levels of the peoples voice which has no correlation with an individual states interest. in turn the senate is only chamber that matters in public policy because a 60 vote majority is needed. Each state should send there local government and transfers of power in a state should be reflected in the senate immediately. States should get votes in proportion to their population. and representatives should vote en block.

    However the most important change to the constitution should be the adoption of proportional representation on the local as well as in the the house of representatives. The system we have now creates a political duopoly. in principal we as a society don't support a lack of competition in the market why should we support a lack of competition in politics. 70 percent of the US population is in favor of a third party. however this is impossible as we have single member districts, and a first past the post system which only requires a plurality of votes. Secondly one of the main principals of democracy is that people select there representatives, this is not the case with reapportionment every ten years politicians actively choose their voters. This act is impossible with proportional representation as a party gets as many seats as it earns. PR also gets rid of the need for strategic voting, why do you think turnout is so low in the US we hate both parties, the approval rating of congress is only 17 percent. If the parties had to earn 10 percent of the vote to get elected to the house as in other countries neither would be in congress today. The parties have failed they should be able to go out of business and ext the the legislature, like the free democrats are likely to in Germany with only 4% support.

    A third and necessary change is a prime minister's/ president's questions as they have in the United Kingdom. This provides transparency and is actually intellectually engaging as ones leader needs to know the facts and explain the governments position. Unlike the senate and house hearings which are exceedingly boring. It's good to know that ones leader is humbled and can take hits and throw them right back at their critics. What we have now is a system in which the president is put on a pedestal and held above the people when he is doing a job for the people.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Reply
  11. Sam Harnish

    I'd suggest three Constitutional changes:

    First, to make it more of the small deliberative body the founders envisioned, I'd give each state ONE senator rather than two. That would make the Senate the small interactive body envisioned, and require more personal responsibility. I'd also be temprted to repeal the amendment that provided for direct election of senators, but that seems less important.

    Second, I'd develop standard nationwide rules for elections of Federal offices (President, Vice President, Senator, and Representative) allowing EVERYONE over the age of eighteen to vote, and eliminate state restrictions on access of 'third parties' to the ballot. I don't get as excited by the electoral college in Presidential elections – with the exception that there is no constitutional restriction on how individual electors actually cast their ballot.

    Finally, I'd give the President a 'line item veto.' I wouldn't go as far as some states have in allowing governors to amend bills, but a line item veto, especially on spending bills, would seem to promise more control over the budget.

    There are many other tings that could help, but I believe these three would give us the ability to work the others out for ourselves.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Reply
  12. Mike

    There's legal ways to amend the constituion, I'd suggest repealing the 10th amendment since unfortunately no one pays attention to it. otherwise, it's over my dead body.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Reply
  13. Charles

    There are some things I would like to see changed in the Constitution. Making clear that the Preamble is the reason for the thing, and defining what our heritage as a nation is, so we know how to move forward.

    On the other hand, and this is a big other hand, none of our current leaders, the republicans in particular, and the Tea Party in most particular show the same wisdom and insight that our founding fathers took for granted. If Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh wrote the new Constitution, we can only fear and dread what the result would look like.

    The democrats are not much better. A constitutional convention now is a disaster waiting to happen. No, no, a thousand times no. A fresh look at our constitution yes, by these bums, not in your life.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Reply
    • Coondawg76

      I agree with you. I read about what unchecked power wrought back in the first half of the 20th Century. The progressive era, The New Deal. I know our Country is on pins and needles but the Constitution keeps BOTH parties from absolute power. Absolute power corrupts Absolute! Keep the checks and balances in place. No enabling act!

      June 20, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Reply
  14. JP0

    I don't think so. The constitution was written by people of uncommon intelligence. I don't see anything but idiots out there now. The constitution as it now exists is our protection from the tyranny of the masses. Don't mess with it.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Reply
  15. NWeiner

    28th amendment to the Constitution: Facebook and Twitter decide the electoral college. Case closed!

    June 20, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Reply
  16. adamTheGr8t

    Never will happen. – We can't agree on anything... I'm sure someone reading this doesn't agree with me! _ ha!

    June 20, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Reply
  17. Jonathan

    The problem isn't that there's something wrong with our Constitution, it's that there's something wrong with everything else.

    We need to go back to square one, and look at every minute detail of our government with a fresh eye. Keep the Declaration and Constitution and throw out everything else. We need to find EDUCATED, intelligent, honest representatives from (almost) all walks of life – particularly experts in sociology, economics, business (real ones, not the crooks that run these massive multinational behemoths), health care, military, law enforcement, and education – while making sure any lawyer, politician, or corporate big business person stays FAR away from the discussion.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Reply
  18. steve

    Do you know where we are as a country!? We are not Iceland and our Constitution is doing fine. Aren't you guy suppose to inform and not bagger the public with the way u want things. Just stop.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Reply
  19. Ian T

    One major change that should be made to the Constitution is going to a Single Transfer Vote like they have in Ireland. This system is the most sophisticated way of voting that better represents a constituent's interests. Every district would be represented by three seats. When people go to the polls, they would list out, in order, each candidate in order of favoritism. For instance, if I liked the Green Party candidate more than the Democratic candidate, I'd put Green Party as number 1 and Democrat as number 2. If the Green Party candidate fails to gain 30% of the vote (or one seat), then my vote would next go to the Democrat.

    This process does take longer to count votes, but it leads to a more representative Congress that way and it would allow third parties to finally be able to gain seats.

    Finally, I would suggest adding a human rights section to the Bill of Rights. One that would ensure rights against all sorts of discrimination, hate crimes and environmental injustices.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Reply
  20. terry Moore

    Zakaria, keep shaking the beehive... The fact that so many are insulting you is the simplest proof that they fear what you say...So keep it up..You have the luck to own a piece of the public opinion debate, keep it going. And, from an atheist :" Godspeed".

    June 20, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Reply
  21. American Rebel

    Great Idea and should have been done a long time ago. However, good luck. People hate change.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Reply
  22. Matt Sky

    I'd say out government system is out of date in many respects, and could use some revisions. The constitution was built to be redesigned! We shouldn't have a system where it's so easy to reach complete gridlock, where politicians are so afraid of re-election they can't work with each other to get real things done. We have too many elections, and Presidents should only get one 6 year term, this two term thing is silly because the whole first term is perpetual campaign mode to get re-elected, the second term is lame duck time.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Reply
  23. Ben

    Yea, but we are all collectively dumber than a sack of doorknobs.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Reply
  24. Ituri

    If we gave our current government the chance to rewrite the constitution, they would od nothing but strip away the few protections the people rely on to protect them against that same government.

    Our constitution was written for the people, and should only be adapted to give the people more controls, more rights, and more protections.

    I wouldn't trust the writings either. They would make it look pretty, then use legalese to thwart it.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Reply
  25. Jason

    If we allowed people to decide a new constitution today, what we'd wind up with is a mishmash of ideas such as a ban on flag burning, or a debt ceiling that could never be raised. I don't trust the people of America to focus on the long term and the big picture, because I've seen no evidence in my lifetime that most Americans even understand what happened six months ago.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Reply
  26. NICK

    A couple of amendments I can think of:
    1) Make failing to deliver on any election promises result in ineligibility to stand for any political office ever again.
    2) Place limits on Federal borrowing so that one generation could not effectively enslave the next to make them pay off the debts of prior generation.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Reply
  27. John Lamb

    My proposed amendment to the Constitution combines two concepts: term limits and a balanced budget amendment.

    "No member of Congress shall be eligible for re-election at any time in which there is a federal budget deficit."

    June 20, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Reply
  28. ObamaSham

    Yeah I'm sure Zacharia (and Obama) would LOVE for us to rewrite the Constitution. If you don't like It, GET OUT!

    June 20, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Reply
  29. KurtH

    In a perfect world now would be a good time to revisit and rewrite the Constitution. The country and the world have changed so drastically that some issues simply cannot be inferred from the Constitution. We need to address the issues of privacy. We need to strongly curtail the power of the judicial system. We need to limit the ability of political parties to hijack the legislative process.

    Unfortunately we do not live in a perfect world. With the corrupt and incompetent people we have in place now make even amending the Constitution a mistake let alone rewriting it.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Reply
  30. sea-libtard

    The author is obviously a commie. If you hate America, please leave.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.