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 And, anyway, they felt the document was old and outdated, drafted all the way back in 1944.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

    Anyone talking about changing the constitution wants us to turn into a socialist European country. The left has been trying to bend the constitution to fit it's agenda especially the last 3 years under this administration. No way we will support rewriting the constition.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Reply
  2. Dolphinvet

    No, we do not need a new Constitution. Our present one is quite sufficient thank you very much. I'm sure that leftists, socialists, islamists, etc, want to do away with our present one in order to give us something that is more compatible with totalitarianism, and our Bill of Rights would no doubt be reduced to "privileges", but those of us who desire freedom and liberty want our Constitution and Bill of Rights, and therefore our built in freedoms, intact.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Reply
  3. Randy Causey

    There is already a proceedure... they're called amendments (XXVII of 'em) There is another route; Constitutional Convention; and that stands the proverbial snowball's chance in hell... besides... NOTHING would ever get past the mountain states and Alaska in the first place. I cannot see Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, N Dakota, et al, even considering giving Fairfax County, VA more power than themselves. In short... it ain't gonna happen. Someone is going to have to draft one "helluva" amendment. Good Luck!

    June 20, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Reply
  4. JoshinSanDiego

    Scrap the electoral college,move to a more representative senate structure much like that of the House, include a comprehensive equality and protection clause for memebers of minority groups especially women, lgbt, and racial minorities.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Reply
    • Charles

      @JoshinSanDiego who said: "Scrap the electoral college,move to a more representative senate structure much like that of the House, include a comprehensive equality and protection clause for memebers of minority groups especially women, lgbt, and racial minorities."

      It's funny how you want recognition/equality for citizens in the "minority" – based on race, gender, sexuality – yet you wish to scrap the Constitutional protections for the equality of State's "minorities" – citizens living in small States – that the Senate currently guarantees.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Reply
  5. rhyemskeema

    Allowing the current political class to rewrite the constitution could only result in misery and hardship for the rest of us. If you let the millionaire lawyers of today get involved and pay lip service to YouFace And MyTube, you deserve whatever crackpot slavery they throw as you. I can see it now. Publicly funded abortions. Guns for cops only. Codex Alimentarius in violent force. Cats and Dogs living together. Nah, I prefer the devil I know.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Reply
  6. Mike Adkins

    Three words: congressional term limits.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Reply
  7. Jean Sartre

    I would be overjoyed with the following changes:

    1) Eliminate the Electoral College

    2) Eliminate Tax Exemptions for all religions and all references to GOD out of government and judiciary, pledge of Allegiance, eliminate prayer before congressional sessions and take the bible out of courts and any swearing ceremony

    3) Eliminate the Life Time term for the Supremes

    June 20, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Reply
  8. No Fareed

    No Fareed, it's not time to update anything, especially when you have written something. You are such a dope, dude. Go back wherever you came from, even if from under a local rock.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Reply
  9. Wdrad

    I lived in Iceland. It has 200,000 people and pretty much is awful. In no WAY should how those people draw up their constitution have any influence on changes to America's. Go back to school Zakaria, and actually learn something about Western history/culture.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Reply
  10. Phil

    In all of this there are elements of either truth and understanding or emotional reactions to percieved threats, at least to a degree. But the question that I feel is begged here is this: Should we change the Constitution or should we educate the populace on the importance of it, the intent and the content. Don't say they "should know", because obviously they don't and besides, when was the last time they had a course on Government, eighth grade "Civics"? In many cases the answer is yes. As is quoted from another very popular source, "give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime", would it not provide a better foundation for future decision making as a body? Further is the problem actually with the the Constitution, the Senate or the House and our government in general or is the real problem with the lack of interest, involvement and willingness of the "individual" to accept personal responsibility and liability for their own well being? Just some more questions, don't expect to change the world but it would be niice to see the worlds populace change.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Reply
  11. nick2

    Great article! The US Constitution was at best a compromise reached 200 years ago. It is high time that we revisit every line in that document and decide whether it still reflects reality. In my view there is a great deal that should be preserved – but just like the curious absence of opinions on slaves, I would amend the Constitution to prohibit corporations from any legal access to Constitutional protection as an entity. That means no more special interests – period.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Reply
  12. andy

    Constitution encompasses time-transcending ideas like "people are created equal". You then pass laws based on these ideals like defining "people" to include cloned humans (or not) when that technology becomes available. Laws change, constitutions shouldn't be rewritten just for the sake of time.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Reply
  13. Ray Jay

    What we need to do is apply the Constitution the way the framers intended instead of having the Federal goobermint and the Supreme Court reinterpret the words due to the altering of the meaning of many words over the years.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Reply
  14. Michael0713

    You are an ignorant jackass.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Reply
  15. Mike

    Is this author really serious? He is completely ignorant in his suggestions. Was he even born here?

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

      Easy bro tell your views...

      June 20, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Reply
  16. Rob

    Yes, let's let the people of Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube decide what goes into our "new" constitution. That has to be the greatest idea since the Prohibition.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Reply
  17. Jonicito

    Why do we allow states equal say? If this nation were truly democratic, we'd allow for the "one man, one vote" to prevail any other ideal. The US is truly not democratic in the respect of allowing RI to have as much say as CA; why give states "voices" that are much more powerful than the voices of the citizens?

    June 20, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Reply
  18. skarphace

    Zakaria: 'We the people' should have more say in the current wording of our constitution.

    We the people: No we shouldn't! And you are an idiot for suggesting it.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Reply
  19. Joe

    Zakaria, you are on drugs...and not the good kind. The U.S. Constitution is the best. What is wrong with you?

    June 20, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Reply
  20. Sitnalta

    Our constitution was written by very intelligent, driven people. They saw injustices under British rule and wanted to make a more idealistic state that was more in line with the new enlightenment age. I don't claim to know the intricacies of Iceland's history, but as far as I can tell, they were simply given their independence by others. They have no personal investment in their constitution so who cares if it's rewritten? Might as well.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Reply
  21. momomiester

    Are you out of your freaking mind! First of all dingo, the constitution was written as it applies to human nature. That doesn't change. Sure we amend somethings but our country is still great due to our lack of changing it. To assume a change in a document in a corporacracy with international money interest paying lobbyist to influence our elected officials is pure lunacy!. If you want a revolution go try to change it. I guarantee that will happen and the same greedy people on top will suffer the same fate as in previous revolutions.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Reply
  22. Andrew

    I see a lot of good replies. However the flaw in the logic is rather simple. Is democracy actually a good thing? Thomas Jefferson believed democracy to be the equivalent of mob rule. Where 51% of the people get to determine the rule of law for 100%.

    In fact, the manual given out to people who wanted to be citizens of the U.S. said the same thing until about 1936 when it was updated.

    The U.S. is not, and never has been a democracy. We are a "republic". If you read the declaration of independence, the constitution of the United States, and then recite the pledge of allegiance allowed one after the other, you will have said the words democracy and democratic not even one time.

    In any country where it is truly "one man, one vote" the minorities get screwed. They are left to the generosity of the majority as to what rights they are given.

    Thomas Jefferson was right. Democracy is mob rule.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Reply
  23. tony guarisco

    Let's see. You suggest re-writing the U.S. Constitution and come up with the Electoral College as a fundamental reason.
    As far as small state-large state, remember that this was debated by the founders. After all, it is the "United States". Small states retain power to offset the power of larger states that are represented by population in the House. Pretty equitable system.

    The U.S. Constitution was not amended 27 times. The first 10 "Amendments" were the Bill of Rights. They were necessary for ratification. That leaves 17. Two other Amendments (prohibition and its repeal)cancel out one another. P

    This leaves 15.

    Three were enacted to correct the historical abomination of slavery. One more to create the income tax.
    We have one that extends suffrage to women. One to limit the term of the President to two terms and a Presidential Succession(infirmity)Amendment.

    The Constitution does not consist only of the words written in the original document and the amendments. We also must include all of the decisions of the Supreme Court.
    It other words, you are a smart guy who is very ignorant on the subject you propose. Being to write well is not enough.
    At least go to a law school and take at least two semesters of Constitutional Law before coming half-baked and quarter-cocked.
    Delegate to the 1973 Louisiana Constitutional Convention and a redactor of the present Louisiana Constitution.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Reply
  24. Tony

    We are not Democracy we are a Republic, a Democracy is purely majority rules, a true Democracy means you can take somebody else's right away by a simple majority. Our Founding Father's set up the US as a Republic to protect freedoms. For example if this was a Democracy and the majority of voters decided rap music was bad for children it could be banned. If the government (congress) wanted to banned Rush Limbaugh because they felt he was to conservative they could do so in a Democracy by having the majority of congress voting to banned him. This cannot happen in our society because we are a republic this is a good thing. You don't have to listen to Rap Music and you don't have to listen to Rush, you can complain about either one all you want with your own free speech but they cannot be banned.

    The supreme court, the US senate, the Constitution are all place holders to keep the majority from running the whole system. A Democracy would mean only the house of representatives is needed, we wouldn't need the senate or the supreme court. The other thing our Constitution does is give the minority some say with the laws that are being created. The states with the lowest population are a minority in one aspect, the Senate gives them more say. 12 or 13 states contain half the US population, the point of view of someone in the city is not the same as the point of view from someone in the farmland, but if you shut out the opinion of the farmer because he's the minority the majority could potentially pass a law that in someway effect food supply, something which the Majority would definitely need. You could even argue the Constitution is a form of affirmative action to give a boost to the minority.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Reply
  25. Geek

    I wonder what would elements of our constitution would be challenged and survive..

    June 20, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Reply
  26. Bwian

    NO it is NOT time to "update" our constitution! We're in the mess we're in now because we've been ignoring it!

    June 20, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Reply
  27. swin

    2 quick points. The problems that exist in this country are not because we haven't updated the Constitution but rather, because we've ignored the Constitution for far too long. Case in point – the last war we fought and won was World War II, which also happened to be the last constitutionally legally declared war. Every war we've fought since has not been legal under the Constitution and we haven't won one since.

    Second point – if we ever were to decide to update the Constitution, Fareed Zakaria would be the last person I would want to consult. Our Constitution was written for a democratic republic, not a socialist state.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Reply
  28. Cliff Vegas

    Our diversity is both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because, in fact, the American experiment continues; a curse because it makes just about every decision a painful and deliberative process. I seriously doubt that we could agree on a title for a new constitution.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Reply
  29. Jenn

    This could be the dumbest editorial ever posted by CNN. See, in their infinite wisdom, the Founding Fathers drafted the Constitution with the ability to accept this little known thing called an Amendment, making the Constitution a constant work in progress. I mean, really, CNN, this is grade school level knowledge. Maybe Mr. Zakaria would like to head back to the classroom for a few lesson before publishing on a topic of which he clearly has no understanding? We expect better from the editors, if nothing else!

    June 20, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Reply
  30. gregory erg

    "The flush toilet had just been invented". Well, it is about time to use it on the writings of Zakaria and the like.

    Let's send Zakaria to Iceland as an American representatiive to help write the constitution using Facebook. Once Iceland becomes a superpower, he can come back.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Reply
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