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 And, anyway, they felt the document was old and outdated, drafted all the way back in 1944.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

    Parts of our Constitution certainly does need to be re-written! What worked in the days of our founding fathers is not working now.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Reply
  2. julibear

    1. Formalize the term "separation of church and state."
    2. Provide for national healthcare and a national social security that cannot be abridged
    3. No corporate funding of elections.

    People, he's asking for ideas, not a rehashing of opinions about our current document. Start thinking anew!!!

    June 20, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Reply
    • John

      It already states that seperation of church and stae is that the government cannot force you to believe in one religion.
      Get your own health care. (I don't want to pay for you bad choices)
      Get a job

      June 20, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Reply
  3. Brad Lorenz

    This country became great specifically because the Constitution, coupled with its' prescription for a balance of power amid the two houses of Congress, ensured the freedoms of Americans to pursue familial, religious, and financial goals of boundless substance and without interference from the government. Our forefathers clearly understood, as evidenced in the language of the Constitution, that life will never exist absent of chaos – economic downturns, periodic personal strife or inter-societal conflict. It was therefore drafted a national guideline for our laws a document not promising beyond national defense protection by government, but from government. Indeed, it was only when Americans began demanding protection by government from the more natural chaos of individual life (e.g., financial challenges associated with old age and health care, job security, joblessness, etc.) that government became not only over-bearing but economically unsustainable. Until we return to a national mindset that embraces and accomodates the power of the individual rather than the society, as set forth in the Constitution, American greatness will remain mediocre.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Reply
  4. Jake

    Oh Christ almighty, no. Don't touch that document.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Reply
  5. Dessie

    It sounds like a good idea, but I really don't think it is. It's unlikely that we would be able to come up with a new constitituion that would benefit everyone and still guarantee all of the rights that we have now. If or gov't decided to create a new constitution, who knows what would happen. I don't want to lose the rights I have now. I think we should keep the current document.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Reply
  6. nick2

    It doesn't really matter any more what the left versus the right really thinks. There is no common enemy – only each other.
    And so then will be no reconciliation – like in a divorce. A Constitution only ever reflects an ideological consensus. We have been reduced to 'interpreting' what Americans thought 200 years ago. At best this is a fantasy. If you look beyond yourselves for a second and feel the energy – it is an active pressure of divided and conquer emanating from the haves and the wannabes.
    I am not hopeful that this grand experiment has not run its course.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Reply
  7. HZ

    No, I don't want a bunch of idiots who know nothing about history and who are easily swayed by what they see on TV entertainment 'news' shows deciding what is in the Constitution.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Reply
  8. Jack

    In my opinion, the United States Constitution should have an amendment that address the issue of immigration. As President Obama said from the past, I don't understand why are we deporting children back to their own country when they practically were all educated in the United States and grew up here. Why would you deport them back and make them go against the United States? And as the members of The Republican, they don't know what is like the life of a commoners. I hope you do realize what Arizona has turned into ever since after the state law of the immigration; it made many immigrants, specifically Latinos, moved out of that place; therefore, cost even more damage to the economy. The United States is made up of IMMIGRANTS. That is why we are call UNITED States of America, because all the states and people were united together. And to talk about immigrants, I don't see why immigrants should go back to their own country when this land technically belongs to the Native America in the first place.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Reply
    • John

      Jack you are confused...We cherish immigration...We deplore illegal immigrants...That the distinction you folks keep trying to confuse people with. It won't work. Do it the right way and you are welcome with open arms...Sneak in the back door and end up...as a home invader should...

      June 20, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  9. Johnny be Good

    There are so many interesting comments from a diverse group of people. I love my country but I am troubled how representatives of government have allowed their personal adjenda's to take priority. This beautiful document was written over 220 years ago, and realistically, the world has developed considerably from that time. We started with colonies and now have states. Where our focus was on our new country and it's Colonies/States, We have now become part of a global picture. When a State makes changes to their constitution, the Federal Government steps in and tells the States "NO". Then what use is State government if the Federal Government is always micromanaging states that they don't represent? A law is made in Arizona and people in other states cry "foul" and work the system (Government) to change the will of the citizens of that state. I do not believe this was our original plan those many years ago. Elected officials go off to Washington, and make changes that cost us jobs, affect our economy, and "elect" to put us into wars that cost us dearly. How many citizens would have voted to increase oil production in their states, but would have been told from Washington, no "We control the oil". Banks go under for bad business practices and people in Washington decide that we can spend our tax money to bail them out. And when the banks recover, they pass the hurt onto us by making it harder and harder to get a loan, get an extension, or in banking terms "No bailout from us." And who defends the banks? The same people who have been manipulating this beautiful document to serve their needs. Something needs to change because the current form of government has been able to stretch and distort this document to their personal "needs". Something needs to change and throwing insults to everybody you disagree with is just spinning wheels and going nowhere.........Our country needs to re-align itself with where we are today and prevent Lawmakers from working our Consititution and Bill of Rights to suit their own means. We must remember that many of our problems have originated/voted into law, in Washington and not by the States. If one can run to the Federal Government, each time that they want to change what the people have decided, then what good is the Consititution? We should not allow law makers to turn their philosophy into ours. There, my feelings............and if you don't like my thoughts, then don't insult me, don't put my ideas down....just think about what I am rambling about. We all have an opinion and when we insuylt instead of reflect, we are doomed to continue down the same road to nowhere.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Reply
    • nick2

      Well said. I believe that the Constitution should be revised in terms of language every generation – so that there is no ambiguity about meaning, and also so that the Constitution becomes once more – a living document reflecting the sovereignty of the American citizens , rather than their government or plutocracies.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Reply
  10. Sam

    What's with all the talk about democracy?

    This country is a Republic and should stay that way. I don't want places like California ruining my state like they have ruined theirs simply because they have more people.

    June 20, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Reply
  11. Bubba, Al Gore & Tony Weiner: Birds of a Feather

    Okay, so Fareed wants us to be like that bankrupt state of Iceland? Where does CNN find all of these fools?

    June 20, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Reply
  12. JP

    A good way to start with fair representation and having one man get one vote is to not count illegal immigrants in the cenus. The current act of counting them gives a legal citizen a district with a lot of counted illegal immigrants makes their vote worth more than voters in other districts.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Reply
  13. Eric

    I think the entire system works quite well. The electoral college is a problem because now Presidential candidates ignore large states AND small states, and just focus all their attention on swing states. That can be fixed without amending the constitution (google "fairvote")

    The biggest problem we right now, and from which so many other problems stem, is the influence (legalized bribery) powerful corporations, the rich, and unions have on our elected representatives. Since the SCOTUS has determined that money and free speech are the same thing, we need a constitutional amendment to allow Congress to set up publicly funded elections properly so that this influence is greatly reduced.

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

      Correction: I meant the National Popular Vote, not Fair Vote - but both are good ideas.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Reply
  14. John

    How Ironic that this lib writer is bringing up the electoral college...The GOP has the power and are rearranging the districts...I imagine this fool would not even mention it if the DEMs where in the same shoes – Don't ever compare us to Iceland! We have the best health care in the world. Buy it, get a job and get it or use medicaid. Your choice, be a doer, or be a parisite...That's the great thing about America

    June 20, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Reply
  15. JD

    The author destroys what little credibility this article had with his particular complaints about the Constitution. The Electoral College and the Senate exist as checks on some of the abuses that unfettered democracy can suffer from. Why are liberals like Zakaria so eager to point out the flaws in unfettered capitalism but so eager to pursue the same in its cousin, democracy?

    June 20, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Reply
  16. Chad L

    I can see them using systems already in place to amend the constitution to bring it into the times. They don't need a complete re-write just some adjustments. the group should be elected by the people not to have more than 1 person from any political party as a member of the delegation. In fact can we just ban all political parties and just have people think as individuals?

    June 20, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Reply
  17. rEVOLUTION

    "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
    - Thomas Jefferson

    ... so I think we have advanced enough to skip the blood part, but you get the picture!
    Oh wait if we skip the blood we might not need the 2nd amendment.. oops.... don't tell FOX news I said that!

    June 20, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Reply
  18. Mike

    If anyone today thinks that they are as intellectual as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton, coupled with prior living in a repressed state under monarchy rule, having their rights and freedoms limited by a foreign power, and having fought and spilled blood for your liberty and the liberty of others....then by all means step to the plate and suggest changes to the U.S. constitution, because you earned the right to say so. If not, you have better sit this one out because you are not qualified.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Reply
    • hustlnflo

      Well spoken !!!!

      June 20, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Reply
  19. NickB5

    We can't even trust these corrupt & incompetent politicians to right a health care bill or balance the budget, so why in the world would we let them tinker with the most important document in this country? You know in your gut they would go in there under the premise of doing something good for average Americans but would come back having managed to only do good for themselves, lobbyists and corporations.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Reply
  20. Ben

    I seem to remember FDR advocated for a new bill of rights that would essentially rewrite the US constitution to guarantee all citizens access to a minimum level of education and health care. I would definitely be in favor of such an update. As heretical as it is to suggest the US constitution is imperfect (I've seen a number of comments calling Fareed Zakaria anti-American), the fact is, the US has the second oldest constitution in the world. Only the San Marino has an older constitution. What we need to recognize, is the political philosophy behind the US constitution, rather than spend our time bickering over the specific meaning of each passage. The US constitution was largely an adaptation of John Locke's Second Treatise of Government, and in the spirit of John Locke, it makes much more sense to update the constitution based on what we have learned about economics and society in the last 200 years rather than continue to try to make policy fit into a brilliant but outdated document.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  21. Carl

    Let's see, a liberal and islamic scholar (site his own biography) writes an article on the US constitution? really? Why? The US constitution is one of the major reasons this country is great. No country is perfect but the founding fathers had wisdom beyond their years. I think the suggestion of rewriting the constitution is close to treason. The only thing corrupting the constitution are the idiots in government that don't follow it. I love the fact that I am gauranteed freedoms. If anything we should embrace our constitution more

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

      Carl, recommending amendments to the Constitution is not treason. In fact, it is provided for in the Constitution itself. Citizens are free to speak as they wish, to petition the government, and to propose amendments to the Constitution. To try to criminalize those activities is . . . well . . . treason.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Reply
  22. Ben

    I think the time has come, and passed, for a new Constitutional Convention. We need to streamline the electoral process, make definitive national decisions on the role of healthcare and our rights to it, fairness in our tax structure, ownership and stewardship of natural resources (including the airwaves), and clear boundaries between the rights and responsibilities of the individual, the state, and the federal government rather than the wishy-washy ambiguity of the 10th Amendment.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  23. Rainhut

    Term limits needs to be in the constitution. A clear oversight as proven by our corrupt senate. That would go a long way toward returning power to the people and away from the lobbies. Don't expect it to happen though, need to be in there from the beginning.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  24. oscar baker

    The constitution is an antiquated document drafted by white men that owned slaves 222 years ago! Amendments only go so far. This is the information age, take advantage of it.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  25. R Fain

    It works, why fix it? If we want it changed, we can amend it. That process has worked well for over 200 years...

    As to the electoral college, it also works, why change it? We are NOT a democracy, we are a republic. The electoral college reflects that ideal. Personally, I would like to have it revert to the old days when the electors were free to vote their conscience and were not bound by the vote in their state...but I am a Luddite...

    June 20, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  26. Ari

    There are so many things that should be added to a new Constitution, not the least of which is some type of rule to deal with the twisted electoral system that allows a man who lost the popular vote to still become president. However, just to be safe, we should probably keep the 13th Amendment. After all, people have tendencies to forget the little things at times...

    June 20, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  27. NyteShayde

    The evidence that this journalist presents on his very limited of our Constitution tells me he shouldn't be suggesting that the general populous of the US should have a hand in changing the most important document our country uses to govern by. It is a living document and in my experience a great many people don't even know their rights under the law. A population of people who don't know their own rights, laws, or the content of their Constitution shouldn't be making suggestions on how to change it.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  28. Miguel White

    ...one thing that is a little disheartening, but not surprising
    is the number of posters that do not understand the function or history or the house or senate and why they were set up as they were. As for the "we have the technology to set up a popular vote"... yeah, right – again, let's review some history – we were not set up as an Athenian demoncracy – we were established as a republic with a representative democracy. If you want to really see the US crater, contrary to what you might read or think, try letting an uneducated, easily influenced electorate be given complete freedom to vote (emotionally) on all issues as an up and down vote. No benefit would ever go away, no tax would ever be approved or all would be abolished, and whatever candidate or issue got the best advertising would win the election hands down. Our infrastructure would crumble in 2 years and whatever enemy wished to take over could with little effort. Some will respond and say – "we have that now" – no we do not, we have checks and balances that work and have through our darkest times, when many other countries did have to reform their entire governments, ours in the US remained.

    Our system in the US is the best, bar none, in the world. The documents that created it were as relevant and powerful today as they were then, maybe more so, because we would never have the unique set of individuals who would have or could have come together today or any other time – as they did in the late 1700's. Read some history folks, not what the GPS program has to propose.... the founder had it right, and we should not ever be swayed by idiots waving contemporary issues and comparisons saying "we know so much more than they did"....

    June 20, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Reply
    • NyteShayde

      Well said, I concur.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  29. joe beans

    and rewrite the bible and koran while youre at it

    June 20, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  30. MW

    1. Add the Air Force to the Constitution

    2. Add the FBI to the constitution

    3. iono

    June 20, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Reply
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