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 And, anyway, they felt the document was old and outdated, drafted all the way back in 1944.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

    Sorry, got interrupted – so:
    2 – Free education for US citizens (only);
    3 – Simplify the electoral system; This one of course would need much more details.
    Still – I think these three amendments would be critical

    June 20, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Reply
    • Charles

      You would need to make the tax rate 75% for free heath care and education, so it wouldn't be free.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Reply
  2. Jaeger

    I have little negavtive concern about the words of our Constitution or the electorial college as its defined or the balance of power that is empowered through its words.

    But what has concerned me and I think has been the historical reason for the various amendments, is that our Leaders have not had the strength or conviction to live up to the words of the Constitution.

    The Constitution is a document that respresents not only the Union of our States, but it represents the scarifices that were made in the Revolution, our American Civil War and wars across the globe. It represents a pledge that our States will remain united as a Republic, not through force but through consent. It represents a commitment that not only will the majority be heard in our decisions but that commitment ensuring that even the least of us will have a say, and the majority can not strip us of our rights, even when we are a single citizen.

    The Constitution defends our Citizens our Citizens should defend the Constitution.... against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Reply
  3. cm

    "One amazing testament to it is the mere fact that it has survived as the law of the land for 222 years."

    No it has not.

    Why do you think there are all those 27 Amendments? These are "patches" to the original constitution.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Reply
    • Mavent

      No, they're NOT "Patches". They're testaments to human short-sightedness and stupidity. For example, the Constitution didn't need to be "patched" to abolish slavery or give women the vote. Those things should have gone without saying, based on the notion of equal rights. Also, had there never been an Amendment to instate Prohibition, there would have been no need to repeal Prohibition.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Reply
  4. guest

    YES! Change the constitution, make it apply to modern times! That would solve so many of our problems...

    June 20, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Reply
  5. Mark

    What? Time to remake the constitution? What Constitution? It's just a yellowed piece of paper in a museum, it definitely isn't followed anymore and has been flushed down the political toilet years before I was born. For those of you who believe you're free and protected by it..WAKE THE F UP...idiots.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Reply
    • Mavent

      Wow, aren't you edgy and cynical.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Reply
  6. lou50

    no, enforce what we have. fix the two parts the forefathers did not see: the idea the country would not eliminate the one right they thought would keep this country solvent: the right to starve to death and the other the voters would become so corrupt they would elect a fool for president. since FDR started the elimination of that right to starve the country started sliding down hill. now we pay/feed people to reproduce and not work and vote Democrat. We need to restore the right to starve to death.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Reply
  7. Byrd

    To ALL politicians: Keep your friggin' hands off my Constitution. The time would be much more wisely spent actually comprehending its meaning, but instead they spend the bulk of their time trying to subvert it.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Reply
  8. The problem with most Americans

    Is they forget that "We the People" means everybody not their religion, ethnic group, majority, etc.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Reply
  9. Tim Thompson

    It always turns out that the very reasons I think the Constitution is genius are the reasons people want to change it. Wisconsin has the same Senate representation as California because this country is a union of equal states. California isn't more important than Wisconsin or Wyoming or South Carolina just because it has more people and pays more taxes.

    I feel the same about the Electoral College. Presidential candidates have to come to my home state of Tennessee even though Cook County, Illinois has almost as many people as our entire state because our 11 votes matter. If Al Gore had won his home state and our 11 votes he wouldn't have needed Florida in the first place. If a popular vote system ever came into being candidates would only have to campaign in California, Texas, Florida, New York, and a couple of other states to be elected. The rest of the nation could just sit back and watch what happened... kind of like watching American Idol

    June 20, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Reply
  10. Bobeee

    OK this is just retarded. THE US can change its constitution, but in doing so would require Americans to look closer at the Federal Government (like in their ass with a fine toothed comb look- which will never haven) to look for a reason to change it. THIS will not happen because the Corporatist yes CNN your sponsors a fucking evil with the rest of main stream media dont want people asking questions they want you to buy more shit and keep eating poor diets. ANYTIME there is something going on in the world thats an "OMFG moment" the media puts someone in the spotlight ... point and case this past week with the casey anthony VS GREECE MELTDOWN!!!! that is all fuck cnn

    June 20, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Reply
  11. doughnuts

    There should have been a Constitutional Convention every 50 years to keep up with changes in both technology and society.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Reply
  12. Miguel White

    The author of this piece is a complete idiot.
    Many others have already posted the many points showing why this would not be acceptable, and displayed the authors lack of knowledge of history as well as these documents.
    No need to provide further input there.
    CNN needs to get rid of this moron.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Reply
  13. Rocket Surgeon

    The Constitution was written to give the people the right to tell Government what it could and could not do. But, we have allowed folks to get elected that couldn't care any less about what the Constitution says. Therefore, we have laws that go beyond the Constitution's boundaries. The Constitution, for the most part, doesn't need to be rewritten – it just needs to actually be enforced by the people. Do that, and you'll have your Republic again.

    Although, the 14th Amendment needs some serious work. (Not foreseen at the time, but hello anchor babies)

    June 20, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Reply
    • glyder

      one of the smartest comments we will ever see on a site like this.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Reply
  14. Jay G

    Did you ever think that the reason some things aren't discussed ad nauseum in the Constitution is because the founders didn't feel the need to waste words? They expressed the powers that each branch had succinctly because they knew the Constitution would need to be fleshed out over time and because the folks in that room could not anticipate every situation that would arise. They were brilliant people. We don't need to rewrite the Constitution.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Reply
  15. Johnny Five

    The constitution was just fine as it was. There is no need to change a thing. The only problems we have are the massive amounts of federal laws that have been enacted since the constitution. Many of them are not in line with the constitution. Until we get rid of our corporatist politicians, it is best to leave the document alone. It will NEVER be better with our current group of leadership.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Reply
    • Rocket Surgeon

      Exactly right! The Founding Fathers had Liberty as their guiding light – as opposed to the clowns we have in government today. They have power as their guiding light.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Reply
  16. Jackson

    And Fareed Zackaria is who agian, exactly?

    June 20, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Reply
  17. Daniel

    While rewriting the Constitution might seem like a good idea, the process should only be controlled by individual citizens and be conducted without any influence of any business, religion, etc. In actuality the outcome would be horrible because they would go in the opposite direction. It would be all about taking away individual rights in favor of building a Confucionist oligarchy to be compatible with a growing census. I will never favor that, I would take up arms to prevent that. I would rather have the Constitution as it stands now than to give up one single right. I would only favor a rewriting that resulted in the status quo or gains for the individual.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Reply
  18. Shannon

    Imagine processing 300+ million people's ideas...that's why federalism works better. The central government should stay responsible for defending our nation. The state and local governments is where this innovation should take place.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Reply
  19. Anonymous

    I think the US Constitution needs to stay intact and the original intent needs to be enforced. The US government has abused its power to amend it based on political agenda (although I would keep obvious improvements such as equal voting rights and abolition of slavery) and has created a new system that is imbalanced, corrupt. and not representative of the people. Going back to square one is a dangerous proposition. The historical context of the document needs to be taken into account, I agree, but I think if our country had been living Constitutionally (as in living Intentionally) all these years – always striving to be the best that it can be, respecting each others' rights as individuals, enforcing all laws 100% of the time, allowing the state and federal levels to cooperate instead of fighting for power over the average citizen, and running the government with the checks and balances that our wise forefathers initiated – we would not be in the heaps of trouble financially and otherwise that we are now. We are one big community and we need to grow up and start acting like one. Read the original US Constitution, Mr. Zakaria. The problems of our generation do not stem from there, but from the cowardice of modern man (meaning men and women) to actually follow the intent of those amazing words to be a shining example of liberty and freedom.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Reply
  20. paul

    Why should we listen to this Zakaria guy? He's all over the place lately and being mostly on the other guys side. Leave OUR Constitution alone. Don't like it? Go back to your country.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Reply
  21. Bryan Micon

    I say get rid of the federal government, and let the states govern themselves. Abolish the income tax and install a consumption tax. Since we have nukes, get rid of the military. If anyone invades us, they get obliterated by nuclear missiles. And lastly, full disclosure on extraterrestrials.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Reply
  22. MiloT

    This, quite possibly, could be one of the stupidest ideas I have ever heard.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Reply
  23. Edwin

    I think a Constitutional Convention is looooong overdue. The founding fathers never imagined their document would last, largely unchanged, for even a hundred years. The fact that it has survived two hundred plus years is more a testament to the lack of motivation of U.S. citizens than the quality of the document.

    Don't get me wrong - it is a passable governmental document. We have yet to completely collapse as a country. But we grapple daily with issues and complexities utterly beyond the scope of the founding fathers. They could not possibly have been able to imagine the problems caused by instant news, blogs, computer forgeries and identity theft, large-scale environmental degradation, and the like - just as we cannot imagine the problems from 2100.

    Whether this method or that method or representation is historically important is not relevant. ALL forms of representation - as well as the possibility of true, direct democracy - should be on the table. To be the innovative country we all crave, it is not sufficient to tweak laws a little, moving from conservative to liberal and back again, over and over. Medical costs are outrageous - but doctors need incentives, as do pharmaceutical companies. One new law here or there is simply not enough.

    I applaud Iceland's plan to garner ideas from their constituents via the internet. A *REAL* democracy values the actual input of citizens. If we looked at ideas from OUR citizens, most would be ridiculous. But amongst the chaff, a few kernels of brilliance might emerge.

    I seriously doubt anyone in our government has the gumption to actually push for this. The vast majority of politicians are either in it for their own power and wealth, or fanatically following an ideology, unwilling to waver or open the government up to the possibility of radical change. But radical change *CAN* create radical improvement, if those involved actually care enough to do it sensibly and thoughtfully, like the founding fathers did.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Reply
    • Rocket Surgeon

      One small difference, Edwin. The radical change the founding father's pushed for was to get the government off of the backs of the people and out of their lives. The radical change that Government would push for is to get that power back...and, it indeed has over time. I know "radical change" sounds good, but not if it means giving up essential liberties and freedoms.

      June 20, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Reply
    • FedUpWithBigGovernment

      Edwin: I am sure that you can do a much better job than the founders because you are so utterly brilliant... what a putz

      June 20, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Reply
  24. DP

    What's the point? We'll just ignore the new one right away, too. Whiskey Rebellion, anyone?

    June 20, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Reply
  25. MasterBlaster7

    After we pay off the national debt....either through taxation, spending cutbacks or massive financial catastrophe....and run a small surplus....we should enact this amendment....

    1. The US Government shall only run a deficit contemplating a gave and imminent threat to national security.

    so...cold war yes....knocking 2 buildings down no

    2. Universal health care....in place of the interest on the debt

    3. Corporate lobbying...for every dollar Corporations spend on lobbyists...they must spend a dollar on anti-lobbyists

    for instance....if the tobacco industry wants to spend 1 million dollars on lobbying for tobacco....they must give an additional 1 million dollars to anti-tobacco activists. Very much like an indigent person is given an attorney if he or she cannot afford one.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Reply
  26. Jackson

    And why would I care what this person things of our founding

    June 20, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Reply
    • svann

      You should never care what someone writes. You should read the words and think for yourself.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  27. Carlos

    I. Our Congress should be based upon proportional representation, not a winner-take-all two-party system. Smaller parties should win an appropriate proportion of the legislature. A two party state is only slightly more democratic than a one-party state.

    II. The electoral college must go.

    III. The federal government should not have to tie almost all of its authority to the interstate commerce clause. The line between federal and state powers should be much clearer.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Reply
    • Moose


      June 21, 2011 at 5:37 am | Reply
  28. Robert

    1. Only American citizens (not corporations, labor unions, etc.) should be able to contribute to political campaigns.
    2. Politicians can only receive campaign contributions from constituents in their districts (states for Senators and nationwide for the POTUS).
    3. Support for Initiative and Referendum at the federal level.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Reply
    • Carlos

      Interesting ideas, Robert. Thank you for your input.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Reply
  29. Justin Nix

    I'm not entirely sure of the exact wording and obviously it would be needed to be enforced greater than it historically was, but I always felt the Roman system of limiting how much business their Senators could conduct while in office (as well as limiting the donations or gifts they could receive) would be a great addendum. Make Congress and the government a place of ideas and innovators who wish to serve, not a place for lackeys who wish to line the pockets of their patrons (not to mention their own).

    June 20, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Reply
  30. HangThisSchmuck

    Wow~ I certainly hope that this schmuck is an "American Citizen" because in writing this he has committed an act of treason. Fareed should hang from the gallows in Ft. Leavenworth, KS and I for one am complaining/filing charges with the F.B.I, this is not freedom of the press nor speech when treason is involved.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Reply
    • HangThisSchmuck

      There is a forum and method to do this; it's called an amendment ~ what this traitor has done here though is called TREASON.

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

      I hope you are joking, HangThisSchmuck, because, if you are not, (1) You are retarded, (2) You are evil, and (3) You would have failed 1st grade civics.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Reply
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