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 And, anyway, they felt the document was old and outdated, drafted all the way back in 1944.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

    Well, Fareed? I think you got your answer. There's barely enough intelligence in these comments to form a comprehensive, understandable document. All the moronic bickering and name calling and you think Americans could EVER agree on a single document. Hell, Jefferson himself expected the Constitution to be rewritten every so often to reflect changes in society. For Americans it’s like asking then to change the wording in the Bible.

    The plain and obvious truth is that America has gotten too big, too complex, and too splintered to govern as an undivided union.

    A reexamination of our Constitution is most assuredly needed, but it is an impossible task. Better to let it all fall apart and then pick up the pieces regionally as separate nations.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Reply
    • Bob

      Bang on!

      June 20, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Reply
  2. FesterNscab

    Good for Iceland! Way advanced in thinking than the U.S. will ever be.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Reply
  3. Kyle

    That is the dumbest article ever written. The constitution was written by the most brilliant and philisophical minds in history, forged by years of fighting and strife. And you want to open it up to any idiot with a keyboard? I agree updating is in order, but leaving it in the hands of the morons that live in this country would be an abomination. What is needed is a dedicated think tank of non political idealogues to recommend and clean up the constitution and laws of the nation.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Reply
  4. Christopher

    The only REAL things that need to be rewritten in the Constitution are to get rid of the electoral college, get rid of the lifetime appointment of Supreme Court justices (it should be 10 years at most) and enshrine term limits for politicians in Congress.

    Everything else in the Constitution has a very good reason why it was included.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Reply
  5. David

    Our founding fathers thought about this long and hard. The system they created is ingenious. Spend time and think about why there are only 2 Senators from each state. They were supposed to represent State's rights, but that changed with an amendment that screwed around with the original thinking. We are the envy of the world for a reason....things are screwed up because our politicians don't follow or understand the constitution and the way the federal government's role is too expansive.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Reply
    • Christopher

      David, the federal government role is not too expansive. If anything, it is not expansive ENOUGH today and some of the states powers need to be taken away from them and the federal government needs to have those powers. Such as sales taxes.... now that we have the internet, we are having problems with states not getting paid their sales taxes. Easy solution? A federal sales tax.

      It would pass Constitutional muster, but you would have the Republicans fighting it tooth and nail based on 'states rights'.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Reply
  6. Thethinker

    I do agree it is time to rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America. Let me list the reasons.
    1) The Presidency is outdated. It is time we elect our Cabinet members. It is also time that each Cabinet member (i.e. The Secretary of State handles all foriegn policy and relations...) be assigned specific duties. The Cabinet should be an executive body that decides as a whole on which legislation should (or not)be signed into law.
    2) Congress needs more controls. An example is that Congress should not pass legislation that gives them benefits their constituents do not enjoy.
    3) The Constitution should clearly state "All human beings are created equal and will enjoy equal protection under the law".
    4) The Constitution should specify the rights of minors and immigrants. Children should not be made into political pawns. And, we are a nation of immigrants, why shouldn't we protect those that want to become citizens.
    5) The Constitution should guarentee that all citizens will not be denied a voice in any relationship. This includes labor relations, among others.
    6)There should be a health care guarentee for all citizens.
    7)Limitations on election dates and times should be eliminated. We should be able to vote on voting day for 24 hours and the weekends should be available as possible voting days.
    8)The mention of G*d should be eliminated from all government documents and official pledges and anthems.
    9)Alll government documents should be available in every language known to man.
    10)It should be clearly stated that there is no official language of the United States.
    11)There should be a guarentee that all citizens shall enjoy a free, equal (funded, non-segregated, etc.) education from birth to the age of 21.

    These are the biggest issues that I feel should be addressed. I feel that the Federalist are finally winning after 200 years of trying. We are an agricultural, industrial, multicultural nation and our Constitution should reflect the face of all Americans, not just 39 who wrote it over 200 years ago.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Reply
  7. Keith

    This is the most idiotic article I have ever read. Our Constitution tells the government what it can't do to us, the citizens. That is the reason this country has been so successful. Our founders had great insight into the heart of men. They realized that if you give government too much power, that it would be just a matter of time before the people would become slaves to the bureaucracy. Our freedoms have been slowly stripped from us for the past 100 years, starting with Woodrow Wilson and exploding exponentially through the Roosevelt years and now you want to completely make us into a socialist state. We are a Republic of States, not a Democracy. We ought to start returning back to the time of limited government involvement not increasing it. Leave the Constitution alone.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Reply
  8. faulkner

    i don't want the idiots who post to facebook and twitter all the time deciding anything at all with the constitution ... talk about the most unqualified people to do the most important job ... there's a reason why the founding fathers didn't invite input from the mindless masses ... and they were right ...

    June 20, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Reply
  9. I vote

    What is wrong with the existing methods available to update the US Constitution? If we as a country need to make changes then I feel it needs more thought than just a tweet. Put some skin in the game and get out and convince others to agree with you. It takes time to do that and that is a good thing. Use the existing system to make your case for change. Get involved!

    June 20, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Reply
  10. Chicago Nick

    Is he nuts? We can't even agree whether to keep the Pledge of Allegiance....Only communists want to change the constitution and it's that simple . And if you're one of those who think it should be done, you're a communist and don't even realize it, because you derive all your information from CNN and John Stewart in between Netroots conventions and bong hits.

    Our founders were more brilliant than any humans in man's entire history on this planet aside from Jesus, there's not a person in this country today smart enough to keep people like Anthony Weiner from wielding and abusing power. That's not the constitution, it's the individual's lack of constitution. Without GOD in America it ceases to exist and as GOD is removed so is Gods divine providence over this once great nation which is what's bringing about it's planned implosion by those who seek to remove HIM.

    Perhaps if more than half this country bothered to freaking vote the nation wouldn't be in the dire straits it is right now.

    You don't fix what's not broken. It's not the constitution that's broken, it's the people, the illegal aliens who don't give a damnn, the hoodies who think because slavery existed 150 years ago Americans owe them a big fat check for some reason as if the Founders invented slavery. It still goes on today in Africa and elsewhere and we're responsible for it? It's the lazy and ignorant from all walks and all communities dragging the nation down, the people who think the country OWES THEM instead of them OWING THE COUNTRY for the rare in this world freedom it and it's soldiers provide you and me and every other jerkoff.

    Problem is too many people looking for a free ride, and the old saying goes 'Freedom isn't free' and half the reason half the globe still doesn't taste freedom is because those people can't handle the personal responsibility that comes with freedom, and half of them are in this country now infecting it like a deadly virus. Get rid of the deadweight deadbeats who won't work or won't learn and educate themselves even though It's free and the nation runs like a top. It's that simple.

    That's what's broken, not the Constitution. And people trying to blame a piece of paper with rules they wish not to live by instead of looking inward for the causes of their problems when the answer is usually staring them right in the mirror. Even Michael Jackson knew this. It starts in your own backyard, if we clean our own the country runs itself but you have to have morals and values to rule over one's self and still you or me aren't GOD, ONLY GOD IS GOD. Not Obama.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Reply
    • Daniel

      I have bad news for you god isn't mentioned once in the constitution

      June 20, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Reply
  11. Freedom!

    I can not think of a single one of today's politicians who could be trusted to touch a single word of our existing constitution, which is the only document we, the people, have to protect us from our own government.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Reply
    • TC

      Exactly why it should NOT be touched.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Reply
    • Argle Bargle

      Well said...and without labels or malice.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Reply
  12. TC

    Only an ultra-liberal CNN reporter would even ask such a foolish question.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Reply
  13. Peter Moore

    Anyone who thinks that changing the constitution is going to solve any of our economic or social problems misunderstands its role. The constitution cannot force people in government to do the right thing; it can only – if we're lucky – prevent them from doing the wrong thing. Tweaking things like the electoral college or the number of senators per state will not restore the housing market or eliminate our national debt. It will not prevent unjust wars or contested elections. All it will do is devote political capital and our national attention away from issues of much greater and more substantive importance.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Reply
  14. Tennessee Mountains

    Iceland is not only a much smaller nation than the US it is also more culturally and socially cohesive. An attempt to rewrite the US Constitution would ultimately force us to concentrate on our differences more than those areas upon which we agree. Consensus would never be reached. It would shatter the country into three or four largish pieces and an independent state or two.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Reply
    • Tom

      A well thought-out comment on CNN? Unheard of.

      TM, this is a very good point. I can see the debate over the "right to bear arms" and the "free exercise and no establishment of religion" tearing the country apart.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Reply
  15. Curiousgeorge

    Fareed, you can piss off. I swore an oath to protect and defend the Current Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. I don't give rats ass what Iceland does. Don't declare yourself an enemy of the US Constitution, you will regret it.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Reply
    • rationality defender

      George, while I can only assume that you serve our nation in the armed forces, if that is the case, then I offer you my greatest respect. That being said, there is a reason that you, and many others serve: to defend the people and their freedom. These freedoms include the freedoms of speech and the press. Therefore, I find it highly anti-American for you to serve veiled threats to a reporter because he is asking a question and exercising his freedom under the Constitution you claim to defend. Perhaps they skipped civics in basic training?

      June 20, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Reply
  16. Colin

    The structure of the Senate serves a vital role in preserving the proper participation of the states in our Union. One-person, one-vote has no place in that context. I'm astonished you missed this.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Reply
  17. Argle Bargle

    What? Depend on the PEOPLE to do something?

    Only if they kill all television and radio shows a full 2 years before it happens. Make people read the Constitution as it is now and get involved in their communities. Otherwise we'll end up with a contract for America's Got Talent instead of a Constitution.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Reply
  18. RG

    Add healthcare to the bill of rights. It's more than a right, it's an instinct.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Reply
  19. Chris

    Wow, your comment about the Senate is a little absurd. It shows a severe lack of understanding on your part of the role that states play in the federal government.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Reply
  20. Daveindiego

    The Founding Fathers who wrote the Constitution always intended for that to be a "living" document, that was to be frequently revisited and changed as necessary.

    The Constitution was not carved into stone tablets.

    Daveindiego

    June 20, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Reply
  21. Mark

    Nice academic exercise but I shudder to think what would happen if we gave opportunity to rewrite the Constitution to the current generation of pols. The Obamacare bill ran 2,000 pages. The IRS tax code has nearly 72,000 pages (seven times a long as the Bible). By the time the "pork barrell" gang got done, you'd need a Brinks truck to lug it around.

    But here's a thought. Let's cleanup the election process – get rid of career politicians. Instituting term limits, eliminating life-time pensions and requiring Congress to abide under the same laws and benefits as they convey upon theiir constituents would be a good start. And then, with a new generation of elected officials we can consider whether to change our most sacred of documents.

    Career politicians were an abhorance to the founders of this country – no reason to let the inmates write the laws.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Reply
    • David1268

      Mark – your comment is right on, career politicians who pander to special interest groups and focus their energies on pork barrel spending waste tax dollars.

      In addition to strict term limits, I think we should limit Congress to two two-week sessions per year (except in strictly defined emergencies) and cut their salaries to a modest stipend so they have to have a real job in the real world.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Reply
  22. Barges

    Ridiculous article/conversation – it's called an amendment. The greatest thing about the constitution is how unbelievably well thought out it is and while it is hard to do it can be changed when there is an absolute need. The thought of making a more pliable document is completely insane.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Reply
  23. Chieflaughingwagon

    Don't come to America with hopes to disrupt our most cherished values. We don't need the failures of your homelands repeated here. The constitution is the framework of our democracy that you obviously left your homeland craving. Leave it be and enjoy

    June 20, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Reply
  24. Howard

    Absolutely the worst idea you've evey had.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Reply
  25. steve

    Update it immediately. No more Anchor Babies!!!!!!

    June 20, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Reply
  26. BeagleMaster

    There are so many things wrong with this article – I don't even want to begin. Obviously this author is from some place that changes their constitution every time the wind blows. There is a reason for the number in the senate and the number in the House and not limiting the supreme court. If you don't like the constitution, go to Ice Land and make it the way you want it but leave ours alone!!

    June 20, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Reply
  27. katahdin

    We need an amendment specifically denying corporate "citizens" any citizenship rights.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Reply
  28. Mark

    I can see the appeal but I very much fear that the religious religious right would try to change our country to a Christian nation instead of a religion-neutral one. I'd rather keep our current constitution locked away and untouchable.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Reply
    • Chieflaughingwagon

      Uh...newsflash....America was founded by Christians... It's ingrained in this country and is part if our most cherished beliefs. All are entitled to pursue religious freedom but let's not forget the principles that made this country great.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Reply
  29. yankeepotroast

    get rid of the Constituition, its useless nowadays

    June 20, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Reply
  30. Unafiliated

    Anyone who receives a government handout in the form of welfare, food stamps, access to taxpayer-supported health-care, should be disallowed to vote for a couple of years. It's simple conflict of interest.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Reply
    • David1268

      Great suggestion!!!!

      June 20, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Reply
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