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 And, anyway, they felt the document was old and outdated, drafted all the way back in 1944.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

    No way. We have a process for amending it if need be. What we really need is for Federal politicians including the President to stop stretching it beyond recognition. Federal government has their fingers into too many places they don't belong.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Reply
  2. Name*Gretchen

    1.Eliminate the Electoral College
    2. Term Limits for Congress – two six year terms in Senate, and four three year terms in the House
    3. Campaigns for Federal Office no longer than six months (2 months for primary, 4 months for General Election), and campaign funding may ONLY come from a fund created by assessing each taxpayer $5.00 / year (1/3 of fund divided equally among primarry candidates, 2/3 divided equally among General Election candidates.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Reply
  3. Teriander

    Holy Jesus, I thought I was the only sane person in this country. It is WAY over time to update the constitution. Im glad to see a news outlet having what it takes to even bring up this topic.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Reply
    • Victor Erdahl

      You must be mentally retarded. The Bill of Rights provide a foundation, a basic framework for human rights in America. You contradicted yourself by saying that it needs re-written, then saying that you were surprised a news media outlet had the courage to say the Constitution needed a rewrite. Read the document in question, then think about what you said before you go running your mouth. It's ironic that the only amendment that has come under fire is the 2nd amendment, when it is meant to keep the government from becoming a totalitarian state. In a few minor instances, it actually has. See the battle of Athens, TN in 1947, or the Rockwell massacre. Both instances have happened within the last 100 years, and both are simply highlights. There are even instances in the 1990's where the government has attempted a forced doctrine on citizens, where the only think preventing that is the 2nd amendment.

      Quit being naive, grown-ups are talking and your blithering is pointless.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Reply
  4. Orlando Voter

    The constitution gives us the right to rise up, defend ourselves from oppression. When Americans quit fighting the system, and look at forein wars and terror as an excuse for domestic oppression, then the very freedoms so many died for are nothing but dead. No we do not need a new constitution we need to understand it, and when we do then maybe America might instead change it's Flag and unread of 13 stripes we will have 39.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  5. jeffreydeebee56

    “Many have asked for guaranteed, good health care.”

    Now, isn’t that sweet! The government shall provide guaranteed, “good” health care, as part of the new constitution. …..and a chicken in every pot.

    “Iceland is home to the world's oldest parliament still in existence, the Althing, set up in 930 A.D. “

    1. Iceland is a representative democracy and a parliamentary republic. The modern parliament, Alþingi (English: Althing), was founded in 1845 as an advisory body to the Danish monarch. It was widely seen as a re-establishment of the assembly founded in 930 in the Commonwealth period and suspended in 1799. Consequently, "it is arguably the world's oldest parliamentary democracy." It is also arguably the most disrupted government in history, as follows:
    a. The internal struggles and civil strife of the Sturlung Era led to the signing of the Old Covenant in 1262, which brought Iceland under the Norwegian crown. Possession of Iceland passed to Denmark-Norway around 1380, when the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark and Sweden were united in the Kalmar Union.
    b. Around the middle of the 16th century, King Christian III of Denmark began to impose Lutheranism on all his subjects. The last Catholic bishop in Iceland (before 1968), Jón Arason, was beheaded in 1550 along with two of his sons.
    c. In 1814, following the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark-Norway was broken up into two separate kingdoms via the Treaty of Kiel. Iceland, however, remained a Danish dependency.
    d. In 1874, Denmark granted Iceland a constitution and limited home rule, which was expanded in 1904.
    e. On 31 December 1943, the Act of Union Agreement expired after 25 years. Beginning on 20 May 1944, Icelanders voted in a four-day plebiscite on whether to terminate the personal union with the King of Denmark and establish a republic. The vote was 97% in favor of ending the union and 95% in favor of the new republican constitution. Iceland formally became a republic on 17 June 1944, with Sveinn Björnsson as the first President.

    “The structure of the Senate is even more undemocratic….”

    The structure of the US Senate is intentionally undemocratic, giving each State an equal standing in the Senate.

    “I'm just suggesting we talk about a few revisions.”

    ……..And I’m just suggesting you get a good book on US History and the Constitution and maybe learn something, instead of proposing the preposterous.

    “And if we were to revise the U.S. Constitution, what would be the three amendments you would put in?”

    1. Fareed Zakaria must go to college and attain a grade of B or better in U.S. History.
    2. Full freedom of the press, but individual reporters, commentators, and pundits therefrom shall be placed in stocks in a public square and exposed to the mob, if they write or expound an idea that threatens the Republic.
    3. The Second Amendment shall be revised to read, “The right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. No way!”

    June 20, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Reply
    • Victor Erdahl

      I'm not sure what you intended with your point regarding the 2nd amendment, but I feel I should remind you that it is intended as a check and balance measure against the government should it become corrupt and authoritarian. The United States government was until 1918, a populist minded body. The point of the second amendment is to allow a violent change of government, if necessary, by the people themselves against the government at hand. I know this might not seem relevant in today's world, but look at North Africa and the middle east. If Syria had something similar to the 2nd amendment, do you think they would be fighting such an oppressive regime for as long as they have been? The middle east in the 1950's was as Europe is today; with a few areas experiencing turmoil and violence, but for the most part peaceful. Today that same area is regarded as the most dangerous place in the world.

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

    I can only remember the preamble of the Constitution if I sing it, according to the tune used in Schoolhouse Rock.

    I think it would benefit everyone if that score were officially appended as the 28th amendment.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  7. Richard Cheese

    Sorry, but I wouldn't let today's politicians from either side within 20 miles of the Constitution if it were up to me. Besides, it doesn't need updating; it needs to be replaced completely.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Reply
  8. Mr. LT

    An excellent idea, maybe too advanced and progressive for small men and women. It would be an opportunitiy to clear up silly concepts like ELECTORAL COLLEGE, and get back to one vote per person. It would be a chance to advance our civilization, to design it from the ground up, using the knowledge and technology and the foundation of demcracy which has served so well for so long. It could be a new era, taking the best ideas and making them better.

    But can we stop obsessing about sexting and what Lady Gaga is wearing long enough to have that discussion? I DOUBT IT!

    June 20, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Reply
  9. RubyRed

    Rather than re-write the Constitution, we should:

    1) Outlaw lobbying – period
    2) Outlaw campaign donations of any kind (all candidates will have the same air time, and public campaign funding, which will allow people other than just the rich to run for office)
    3) Install term limits for EVERYONE
    4) Provide the same health care for those in Congress that we get in our jobs (no better, no worse)
    5) Do away with the IRS, and go to a Fair Tax system
    6) Make it illegal for any Congressman to take a job with any Corporation within 10 years of leaving office. (That will take care of undue Corporate meddling in our lives).

    I could go on and on, but this is a good start towards ending partisanship, and fear mongering, and hopefully get us back on track to being the great country we used to be.

    Ruby Red

    June 20, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Reply
    • John

      Ruby Red, you took the words right out of my mouth! Excellent post and great suggestions.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Reply
  10. Michaell

    There's too much ugly in our nation right now to consider re-writing the constitution. Many people would probably end up losing their rights, even to vote. Slavery might come back.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Reply
  11. alan newhouse

    a presidential electoral vote by house district [winner of the district gets 1 vote ] [winner of the state get 2 votes] would not have changed the results of any recent election. just try to imagine the probability of voter fraud if the national popular vote were the sole determining factor. fraud is an issue even with the current system.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Reply
  12. MK54

    The US Congress has more urgent tasks to accomplish and can't even find ways to compromise and move forward on pressing budget issues. Revising the Constitution is a task far beyond the capabilities of our current Congressional leadership.

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

    Mostly what I think the Constitution needs is clarification. Over the years volumes worth of legalize has been written to circumvent the plain language of the Constitution. For instance, something as plain as "the right of the people peaceable to assemble" has been ignored and we now haul people off to jail in certain circumstances if they don't have a "permit" to assemble. I'm sorry, but no "permit" is required. The Constitution is the only permit you need, yet laws exist that require you to have a government approved permit to assemble.

    We need the plain language of the Constitution, but we also need an additional set of binding statements of intent. We need our Representatives to do what the Supreme Court has done in many cases, which is look at a wealth of historical documents and determine what the intent of the law was. I don't think the Supreme Court should be radically altered, but I don't think 9 people should determine the intent of a law passed by Congress. Congress needs to clarify intent. There are 535 people (our Representatives) who need to define that.

    They need to go down the list and define just what "Necessary and Proper" means. Its not that we need to rewrite it, but we do need to look at Supreme Court interpretations of such phrases from the Constitution and ask ourselves if that intent has been circumvented or interpreted too broadly and thus given too much latitude to the Federal Government.

    Call it a binding supplement to the Constitution. Something the Supreme Court would be required to consider before all other means of interpretation. When the Constitution talks about Congress having the power to regulate interstate commerce, I think a supplemental statement of intent need to be appended to it that defines in a little more detail the extent of those powers. Did the regulation of interstate commerce really mean the Federal Government can control gun ownership if a gun was sold across state lines? Was that what interstate commerce meant? Things like that need to be resharpened and made clear. We need to look at the Clauses, we need to look at how they have been interpreted, we need to look at the ramifications of those interpretations and ask ourselves if that's what we intended.

    Overall, the whole thing stays intact and they only get to clarify. They don't have to power to pen all kinds of new power for themselves. I would also make sure all debate was public and that State chosen representatives were sequestered during debate (much like a jury). You would have to lock them in a fishbowl for months until they hammered out something to be ratified by the states. We get to look in, but they don't get to look out. We get to watch, but they don't get to talk to lobbyists. You would have to lock them in a self-contained compound with a one-way mirror on it.

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

    The Declaration of Independence states the framers intentions....

    "But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

    If and when the constitution is no longer relevant, it is our DUTY to alter or abolish it.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  15. Ben Hutchins

    Don't be daft, Fareed. Of course we shouldn't CROWDSOURCE the CONSTITUTION. The time has not yet come for government of, by, and for the Internet lunatic fringe, which is primarily what would show up for such an exercise. We'd end up with an amendment mandating tinfoil hats.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Reply

    Its funny how conservatives want government out of our lives but when it comes to gay marriage or other "controversial" issues, they can't wait for government to step in.


    June 20, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  17. John H.

    It's been time for a re-write for some time. We are living by a set of laws that have basically been unchanged for ~230 years. Sure things have been added, but overall the document has remained unchanged. It was written for a different era and I feel in no way represents today's world. We have so much now that did not exist back in the 1700's. Also the fact it has to be "interpreted" alone should scream it's time for a rewrite in today's English. Use the existing document as an example naturally, but lets lose some of the dead wood that is in there from 200+ years of change.

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

    We should worry about constitution when the government truly follows it...Govt is not run by the elected politicians but it is run by the lobbyists of private companies who decide what country want and what govt should do...So for now dont worry about the constitution and let it rest in peace.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  19. SMC1976

    From the comments I have managed to read I think it best to remember what the Constitution is and what it is not. it's the foundation and framework on which we were to build and govern our Democracy not the laws of it. It is how the Government is to be organized and the boundries in which the laws passed are to adhere to. If there is any aspect of the Union which should be looked at, perhaps it is the two centuries of the laws passed, the precendences that have been handed down based on the interpretation of some one at that moment in time to the point where laws contridict and their meaning and purpose have been lost and used to further the anbitions of others. for all the woes discussed, corporate greed, crooked politicians, etc. these accusations have been as much a part of the National debate from the begining as the Constitution itself.
    I do not think it was an accident or artistic choice that the largest words on those pages displayed in the National Archive are We The People. it is to remind Americans that they are the ones who will decide it's fate.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  20. Victor Erdahl

    I agree with this idea... Infact, let's revise our own Constitution and instead of having the freedom of expression, religion and media, we'll have an amendment that specifically forbids religious fanaticism, and instead of having a free media has a regulated, unbiased media. CNN will go out of business as soon as it's passed! You know they would eliminate the 2nd amendment, so why not? If you're willing to trash one right for another, you need to be willing to make extreme sacrifices when the amendment you are abolishing is the one that is meant as a check and balance measure against the state.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Reply
  21. David P. Kronmiller

    Updating to reflect modern times is probably important. A lot has changed in the last 100 years alone. Here's are two things I might change:

    1) Truth Amendment – All elected officials while holding public office would be required to be considered under oath to tell the truth as long as they are serving – no matter the environment they are in. In other words a Senator could not go on a news network and speak in hyperbole about a bill but would have to stick to the facts. This amendment would also allow a series of penalties if elected officials either exaggerated or out right lied about the contents of a bill, law or government policy.

    2) Voting day a national holiday (not sure if this would need to be in the constitution). We need higher voter turnout. We also need an additional option – NONE OF THE ABOVE and a threshold should exist for None of the Above which would require a new election (say if none of the above won the election a new election would be called)

    June 20, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Reply
    • Bryan Micon

      HAHA truth amendment. If that was added, every politician would be ousted.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Reply
  22. Greg

    FZ is a political hack that is so left wing his propaganda escapes few. We have a process. That process has worked for 250 flippin' years. Just because the inept follow the musings of incompetent "news" people like Zakaria. He obviously has a bias for the left and feels people like himself know what's better for individuals then the individual does. And CNN keeps people like this hack on the TV to help propagate the propaganda machine for the Democrat party. What a joke.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Reply
    • El Kababa

      Greg, Zakaria has twice your IQ, five times your education, and he has read 100 times as many books as you have. He's smarter than me too. You can't brush this off by calling a smart guy dumb and playing the tired old "Liberal Media" card again.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Reply
    • Marge

      BS. what's the good of having a Constitution any way when REPUBLICANS the scourge of the land block and obstruct and try to interpert the Constitution they way they want not the way it is written.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Reply
  23. El Kababa

    Now is not the time to re-write the Constitution.

    1. We have five Republican Party hacks making up the majority on the Supreme Court. We do not want this court making the defining rulings on a new Constitution.

    2. Conservatism is too powerful. Conservatives will call out the crazies and fill the streets with chanting protestors demanding that the government accommodate all the demands of global corporations.

    3. Conservatives will be able to block any sensible provision and we will be dealing with the Devil like we are right now. They will permit social security only if medicare is made unconstitutional. They will allow public education as long as there are no child health programs.

    4. Every Corporate lobbyist in Washington will be bribing those who author the new Constitution to twist it this way or that way. In the end, we will have a 10,000 page constitution that has an amendment guaranteeing the rights of corporations in every industry to be free from regulation.

    We need a new Constitution, but now is not the time. It can only be done after Conservatism has been destroyed as a political force.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Reply
  24. Paul Pence

    I only went through the first fourth of so of the comments before I ran out of time. I'm amazed how well the commenters seem to know the constitution! Good work!

    As to the original article, I had the same misunderstanding of the role of the senate and the distinction between democracy and republic when I was young. I wouldn't call the author, Fareed Zakaria, names other than nieve, uninformed, and prone to accept simplistic answers.
    But as to the question that he intended to lieave as a discussion starter - what would I change?

    I'd repeal the 15th and 16 admendments.
    I'd require that any requirement of a treaty that conflicts with the constitution requires a constitutional amendment rather than a simple approval of congress.
    And, just for fun, I'd make a ONE TERM LIMIT for the House of Representitives, so that there is a constant flow of new people who bring new voices to DC and then bring experience back to their home states.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Reply
  25. Marge

    One thing that has to be remembered. No matter how people want to rewrite the Constitution, the only way it can be done is each provision has to be approved by 2/3 or maybe 3/4 of the states have to ratify it. And with the way this country is divided I doubt if they would come of that much of an agreement. I think the first thing they should do is REWRITE THE OUT DATED SENATE RULES. There should be a majority rule. There should not be allowed ONE PERSON to block any thing. There should be no filbusters. The senate should be allowed to run smoothly like the House does. If they had those rules during Obama's first two years in office a heck of a lot of good bills would have passed instead of being blocked. And Judges and person for departments would have been appointed. The republicans have blocked and obstructed every thing they could to make it look bad for Democrats. If I were a Democrat in office and if the republicans had a majority in the senate I would put a hold on every single solitary they ever did. And then filbuster so not a single bill could come to the floor. PAY BACK IS H**L.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Reply
  26. chia

    Trying to compare the US to Iceland is frankly ridiculous. Iceland has a population smaller than Cleveland, so it makes sense to have a purely democratic process such as the one described. Try that in the US, you will fail horribly. And one of the main reasons is that most Americans don't even know what is in the current US Constitution or why it's there.

    And I'm afraid (not just trying to be hostile here, just stating fact) the author is a perfect example. There is a very good reason the electoral college and US Senate work the way they do (and btw, revisions to the Constitution work in a very similar fashion). Yes, it is not democratic in the sense the author described (a 'direct' or 'pure' democracy). But that's because the United States was never set up as a pure democracy, it is a federal republic (or to be perfectly correct, it started as a confederacy and became a federal republic). This is the United STATES of America- States' rights and governments are still a very important and powerful element of government, and will be for the foreseeable future.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Reply
  27. George

    The Constitution is the third finest public document ever written, after the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence. While it can be argued that there are dozens, maybe hundreds of silly and antiquated laws that should be repealed, the Constitution is too sacred a document to be torn to shreds by political ideologues or the great unwashed and increasingly stupid masses. I would not be willing to tamper with it in any way and there is NO person on earth that I would trust to do so. Leave it alone.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Reply
  28. Kell

    Changes I would suggest:

    Election reform. No campaign finances from corporations, or from individuals who were re-reimbursed, rewarded, or otherwise compensated by a corporation for supporting specific or multiple candidates.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Reply

    What part needs to be tossed.?.... Oh I know any and everything pretaining to the Christian God...Now what would this piece of muslim work like to see added.. let me guess... sharia..

    June 20, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Reply
  30. mroberts

    Nothing scares me more than the idea of rewriting the Constitution via Twitter or Facebook input. I wouldn't even want our current representatives in Congress to do. All you need to do is look at many of the comments on this board to see why. Most people who have commented on this thread have never bothered to read or understand the Constitution, so they have no idea why it was written as it was, yet they believe they are qualified to offer their input on how to revise it.

    Our nation was never intended to be a democracy, it was intended to be a republic. The people are fickle, so the government was designed to insulate the government from the changing whims of the people so that policy would be more stable and informed. The Senate was originally appointed by the states and the president was never intended to be elected by popular vote. The real power of the nation was meant to be with the states, who elected the president via the electoral college and appointed senators. The people still had a voice, but it was expressed directly only through the House of Representatives by popular vote.

    Before you offer your input, try reading the Federalist Papers so you at least have an idea why the government was set up the way it was in the first place.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Reply
    • Jessy

      But what if the vast majority of the US wants to revise the Constitution through social networking? Your view would end up in the minority who would have no say in the matter because the US is driven by the principle of "majority rules" even though there are "minority rights". Who are you to stand in the way should the majority go ahead with this?

      Of course, if the majority decides not to do that, then you're ok.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Reply
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