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 And, anyway, they felt the document was old and outdated, drafted all the way back in 1944.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

    Last time I checked, Benjamin Franklin once proposed (in regards to the formation of the Constitution) that instead of having a single president taking command, there should be a group of elected council members taking its place and they would do their duties without any pay. The idea behind this was that Benjamin Franklin wanted the elected council members to perform their duties out of honor rather than for the pursuit of money. Unfortunately, the idea was shot down by the rest of the founding fathers. They felt that such a position would more than likely require someone who is so rich that they don't need to be paid. Of course, that was back then.

    Today, we still have one US President who is currently paid $400,000/yr. That is one hek of a salary to have and it's no wonder many candidates want that position. Unfortunately, with the added bonus of "executive privileges" and expenses covered by tax-payer dollars, this attracts the wrong kind of candidates (the sort that are greedy and willing to lie for it).

    Granted, we can't put in a council as that may complicate the election process, but Benjamin Franklin may have had the right idea about getting rid of the pay. If the position of POTUS didn't include pay nor executive privileges (riding that pretty plane or having luxury dinners, etc. at tax-payer expense) then the number of candidates applying would more than likely dwindle to the few who are willing to do it for just the honor of it all.

    Or we could just take away the executive privileges and force all political leaders (POTUS, Congress, and Supreme Court) to pay for their own luxuries (all of them NON-tax-deductable).

    June 20, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Reply
  2. Scott

    Please God...I know our government isn't perfect, but to rewrite it? I don't know what country Fareed hails from originally, but I do think that his little idea exemplifies just why the founders did not want foriegners to hold the title of President of the United States. Let Iceland do what it wants. If Fareed likes Iceland so much mabey he should look into moving there. If the constitution is ever scraped then the states should have the option to secede from the union, as the contract between the federal government and the states would be null and void. I certainally don't want to see our country turn into a confederacy or something else.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Reply
  3. Geoff Wallace

    Clearly CNN is stooping to attention grabbing headlines to compensate for the slumping ratings.

    This is one of the most nonsensical articles I have ever had the displeasure or reading.

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

      Geoff, I think Zakaria is a lot smarter than you, knows a lot more than you, and you can't understand the points he is trying to make. All you know is the basic Conservative Propaganda points that can be written on an index card.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Reply
  4. Michael

    Yup....here's my suggestion: Abolish one of the most destructive things ever to come down the pike.....religion.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Reply
  5. rhyemskeema

    How cute. Newer is always better. Let's get rid of this "G_D piece of paper" and fill it with more convenient, fun ways for despots to consolidate power. Then we can finally, actually blame ourselves for our own misfortune and not have any kind ancient wisdom or tradition to control the egomaniacs who get into politics. On the other hand, if we did rewrite the constitution, it would be a perfect excuse for internal upheaval, which might result in routing the globalist cabal that prevails in America today.

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

    the constitution is fine, it set up a bicameral legislature, one represents population and one gives equal representation to all states. it set up 3 separate branches of government in the judiciary, the executive and the legislative branch. it outlines, qualifications, powers, and non powers of each branch. It left itself opened to be changed when needed. Great document and the writer of this article needs to go read this constitution.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Reply
  7. OP

    Want to change the constitution? Pretty simple....


    Instant constitution change!!!

    June 20, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Reply
  8. Terry

    Sir Craig wrote: "Nebraska has a unicameral that seems to work just fine, without the need for a senate chamber." Are you kidding? As a 5th-generation Nebraskan, our part-time "legislature" is an embarrassment to me and most other Nebraskans I know. It just doesn't work. I'm going to assume you are not from Nebraska...

    June 20, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Reply
  9. RainyAlaska

    The Constitution may need a slight update but there is not a single human being in Washington D.C. I would trust to babysit a copy of the Constitution much less change any part of it. If you change it, you run the real risk of ruining the intent. The spirit of the Constitution is still the same. We should leave it alone. We don't need more laws or different laws, we can't enforce all the ones we already have. The Constitution is the ground workings of our Nation and our personal freedoms. LEAVE IT ALONE!!!!

    June 20, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Reply
  10. Conner Freeman

    I would make the following changes:

    1) The outlawing of the following: (A) Corporate donations to any and all political campaigns - all campaign contributions must come from private citizens, NOT corporate bodies (B) The 2-party system. Washington HIMSELF warned against the dangers of political parties and a 2-party system gives us merely the ILLUSION of Democracy. By dissolving both the Democrat AND Republican parties, smaller parties, closer to the People's Needs, could better represent the interests of the greatest number of people rather than the interests of those with the greatest means.

    2) The Complete Abolition of the Electoral College.

    3) STRICT 2-term limits on all elected Federal Positions.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Reply
  11. Adam

    I am open to the idea of re-evaluating the Constitution. After all, the premise of the American system of government is that government is ultimately a creation of, and thus responsible to, "the people." It stands to reason that "the people" should be able to change the manner in which they are governed, should they so choose. However I say this with one caveat: please God spare us from a Twitter Constitution. Government by hashtag is truly a birdbrained idea.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Reply
  12. Scary Times

    Your TV is thinking for you.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Reply
  13. Bryan

    One need not look any further than this quote from the article to understand the ignorance of the guy who wrote it:

    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.

    BUD, the framers KNEW that is EXACTLY what they were doing. Clue: They did it on purpose! If you want to see more of the "one man, one vote" thing (should that be one person?), look at the HOUSE.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Reply
  14. Jeanie Mehne

    Let's DEFINITELY rely on the people who spend most of their time "tweeting" and "FB-ing" to help REWRITE the U.S. CONSTITUTION!!
    And maybe Paris Hilton, Charlie Sheen and the Kardashians can help out, too!!!!

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

    TREASON, SIR! TREASON! What is WRONG with you people?! This is the United States Constitution we are talking about, not some outdated menu that no longer reflects the meal of the day! Without this singular document, none of you would enjoy half of the freedoms you enjoy today, nor indeed would even know what the word "freedom" entails! You are all socialist ingrates who are utterly and disgustingly ignorant of the miracle the Constitution represents. You are all fools, complete, total fools, who would cut their own noses off to spite their face! If you want free education and health care, then Move to Finland and mooch off their system. Don't try to conform the Constitution to your stupid "ideals". Rather, move to China, or Russia, or any of the other socialist arenas flailing about in the world today. You represent the most digusting form of Tyrrany by the Mahority, and if you don't understand the outrageous danger that represents, then I suggest you read Alexis de Tocqueville's, "Tyranny of the Majority," Chapter XV, Book 1, Democracy in America.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Reply
  16. Shane

    It should be changed to WE THE BILLIONAIRES since the wealthiest 1% hold 40% of the nation's wealth. I did read the Constitution for the first time last year. It is the most vague, outdated heap of tripe I've laid eyes on, and it certainly doesn't reflect how our nation is being run today.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Reply
  17. Remford

    The U.S. Constitution is a masterpiece – that should first be adhered to and defended rather than exploited – before being "revised" to suit the whims of the day.

    The reasons Constitutions exist is to ENSURE the continuing presence of values that RESIST whim or convenience.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Reply
  18. a real american

    if you do not believe in our constitution go back to india you came here for the things that the constitution promises you. And anyone else who does not believe in or has a problem with what the constitution promises an American then get out of America. Shame on you for using your position in global media to even put the idea in ANYONES mind.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Reply
    • fdhghgd

      He is just as American as you are; He's a citizen.

      June 20, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Reply
  19. stan

    The problem with reopening the constitution is that every special interest group (Unions, corporations, etc) will see it as an unprecedented opportunity to enshrine their agenda. To do it rationally, one needs to step back from current crises, and look at what long-term problems have evolved that the framers were ignorant of... and fix those. My picks: 1) A limit on taxation (both individual and corporate); 2) meaningful term limits on all congressional representatives.... we want statesman, not career politicians; 3) Presidential authority for line-item vetoes (or something similar, to limit the pork; 4) Better definition on the limits of federal authority.....

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

    I believe that one of the biggest inhibitors of progress in our country is an outdated political system. It's not a sound republic when large corporations and the super-wealthy have more influence than the majority of the population. The problem with politics is politics. We need to get back to a system where policy is more driven by the people for whom it was created. We are a nation divided by our political system, and any ounce of progress is stalled by the other side. There is no cooperation, and each side believes their ideas are the only way. Here are my three amendments:

    28-Abolish the Electoral College. Let the people truly decide.
    29-Prohibit political parties. Let people vote for an individual platform instead of being blinded by party agendas. George Washington warned against them. Look where we've been the past decade.
    30-Limit the amount of influence that large corporations/lobbyists/large donors can have on the political process.

    If we can get back to basics and the the people of America have a voice, then we will be a lot better off.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Reply
  21. Patrick B

    What's the point of creating a new one? So our legislatures can ignore that one too? Here's a better idea: Just enforce the one we've got.

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

    You want to take inputs to a new constitution from people who took out home loans that they had no chance of repaying?!! Ditto for people who bought multiple new cars/rec vehicles, without longterm plan to pay for them?!! That is the scariest idea I have ever heard!! Reference the Iceland initiative, remember their "citizens" recently voted down a proposition that would have required their government to repay a legitimate loan they received from Great Britain! The citizens of Iceland should definitely not be used as an example of where the US should be headed – my opinion, of course.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Reply
  23. Amavet2

    Its time for you Fareed Zakaria to return to that dirt floor country you crawled out of, and go back to praying to your Monkey, Rats, Cows, and Elephant Gods!!

    June 20, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Reply
  24. Splovengates

    Change the Constitution???—There goes the neighborhood!!!

    June 20, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Reply
  25. Bobby

    Oh, God, please no! Our Politicians are not honest and do not represent the American People..

    June 20, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Reply
  26. Runaway1956

    We can't even pass any amendments – what makes anyone think we could rewrite the entire constitution, without messing it up badly? Who, exactly, would rewrite it? Consider that politicians today are overwhelming owned by corporate concerns. Corporate bosses would be more than happy to write away all of our civil rights, making us property or chatell of the corporations.

    Think, before you speak, people. And, be careful what you wish for – you may just get it!

    June 20, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Reply
  27. Grrr82cu2

    Iceland – will NEVER be the United States – so what they do with THEIR Constitution is all fine and dandy.

    Leave the US Constitution – ALONE !!!

    (and I would be called "a liberal" by some – but never about THIS !!)

    June 20, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Reply
    • Jessy

      I hate to break this to you, buddy. The US Constitution is considered by everyone as a living, breathing document (in the sense that it adapts). In fact, our founding fathers would be offended if the constitution was never amended during the past 200+ years.

      In other words, without updating [some call this "amending"] the US constitution, black people would still be slaves, women would never have been able to vote, the first national bank would never have happened (which helped pay down the debt that fledgling America had) position of US Vice President would still be worth no more than a bucket of spit.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Reply
    • Grrr82cu2

      Point taken – Jessy – but the kind of "changes" which would reflect the now chaotic and diverse population of the United States today – would take the Constitution far afield from what the founding fathers had in mind when they made it the "living" adaptable document you reference. Rather than the wholesale changes reflecting all of its citizens' input as Iceland is apparently willing to do, any changes to the US Constitution must be approached on one for all and all for one otherwise it will fragment the country politically and geographically.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Reply
      • Jessy

        Well, I hope you brought something to entertain yourself with, Grrr82u2, because (unlike Iceland's 320,000 citizens) the United States has over 300 million people and that means a veeeeerryyyyyy loooooooong tiiiiiiiime to amend the constitution in the manner that Iceland is doing it (asking its citizens directly rather than debating it with its elected leaders). Actually, that wouldn't be such a bad idea. After all, I can't trust our elected leadership any longer.

        June 20, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  28. jkINC

    I would not trust any politician in this day and age to update the Constitution. If we ever get to a happier place where Statesmen are the rule then maybe but not now with the our back-biting, power hungry, sniping, snarky, polarized politicians. I can't even imagine the lobbying that big businesses would undertake to get their biases in the document. ABSOLUTELY NO!

    June 20, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Reply
  29. edvhou812

    We can always update the Constitution, just takes tons of people to do it. If Zakaria really means, "Is it time to update the Bill of Rights?", then the chances of that happening are slim and none.

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

    1. A "substantive due process" or "right to privacy" amendment that would enshrine that Supreme Court-created legal doctrine explicitly in the Constitution, stating that there are "substantive" aspects to the rights of life, liberty, and property, including a strong liberty interest in reproductive rights, freedom from invasion of privacy in our bedrooms, and other Supreme Court-created rights that are constantly being jeopardized by which way the political winds are blowing.

    2. A "term limit" amendment for Supreme Court justices – one 16 year term at the end of which the President in office can re-appoint for a second 16 year term or not but in no case should a justice sit for more than 32 years on the court – if they're going to act like partisan hacks we should treat them as such – as it is, they are truly an "imperial judiciary" despite that fact that at least one of them appears to have learned everything he knows about the law from the nuns who wrapped his knuckles in grade school.

    3. Please God do away with the Electoral College – surely there can be a more antiquated, utterly undemocratic way of electing our presidents.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Reply
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