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 And, anyway, they felt the document was old and outdated, drafted all the way back in 1944.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

    Why do you keep mentioning the word "democratic". The United States is not a democracy...It's a constitutional republic. The problem is not that we need to 'change' the constitution–government needs to FOLLOW IT. Corporatism has supplanted our constitutional republic...The voices of the few (wealthy) are what matter...The banks and corporations dictate that–any 'new' law would be ignored just like the constitution.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  2. gremlin

    The delegates didn't "see a disconnect." The articles of the confederation were a disaster. I used to think Fareed Zakaria was a good reporter that actually researched things, but apparently he's never read the constitution, has no idea what's in it or the reasons behind the makeup of our branches of government. Equal representation by population posed problems for smaller states. Equal representation by state posed problems for larger states. The compromise? The house and senate. I'm not going to bother with the rest of it. This is garbage reporting. I expected better.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  3. PotFace

    I think this is a trick question – technically the U.S. is a series of nations that are bound together under a single government. To get rid of the electoral college would be paving the way for getting rid of states. I live in the South, under insane redneck reign. So, I could support dissolving the states completely. We'd need a new name for the nation though.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Reply
  4. Jason

    Oh i knew i'd see this.. Get rid of the second amendment huh? Great way to instantly kick off the second civil war.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Reply
  5. colin

    can we just get a revolution started already? there are number of things we need to do to tweak our government (congressional term limits, judicial term limits, maybe popular elected judges, popular elected bureau head, a ban on corporate campaign financing, a reform of rules for or outright ban of lobbying, making election day a holiday to improve voter turnout, end the electoral college system) and the guys in power now don't seem to be interested in any of them! many of our most important senators and congressman have been in power as long as ghadafi or mubarak! fixing our broken government will in turn fix (mostly) everything else. this is the 'change' that everyone thought barack obama was talking about and why they voted for him.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Reply

    HELL NO!

    June 20, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Reply
    • NyteShayde

      Hey Marvin, your shrink called. He said you missed the med line and it's time to go back to the hospital. No more interwebz for you, crazy dude.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Reply
    • colin

      the only reason anyone is against gay marriage is because of their religion. in the united states, the state may have no established religion. therefore a law banning gay marriage is based solely on religious beliefs and is unconstitutional. sure laws against murder and theft were originally created due to religious beliefs, but those impede the rights of others where gay marriage does not.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Reply
  7. Dave K

    The only thing I can think of that would be worse than updating the Constitution on the whim of whatever party happens to be in office.... doing so with the help of FACEBOOK.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  8. Amy

    I can't speak for Icelanders, but I DO know that most Americans are not only misinformed, but completely uninformed about many of the important issues facing this country. "Crowd sourcing" the US Constitution would be the worst thing this country could ever do. You let the general public put in their input, things like Glee and American Idol would find their ways into the Constitution or Bill of Rights.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  9. colin

    if you want something done, do it yourself

    June 20, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  10. American Citizen

    The press is failing to report all that it knows that the government does to harm or injure civilians in the United States, so how could we reasonably trust this forum? Moreover, who is a legal U.S. citizen and who is not? Who is going to share that information publicly in valid authenticated evidence over the web during a discussion? The "best" ideas might be shared on your web site, but it needs to be the best from valid legal United States citizens where it can be determined that the majority of U.S. citizens have Internet access and access to your web site, but not to be set off and denied to some in favor of the rest.

    I caution CNN as this can be construed as inciting a riot.
    ©2011 American Citizen ™. All Rights Reserved.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Reply
    • betterthanjosh

      you are not an american citizen, you are the bastard child of the invading white plague. Native americans say all people of color welcome.

      June 20, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Reply
  11. Chris N

    Revising or scrapping the Constitution and starting anew is great idea, with inevitably horrible results.

    Unfortunately, special interests (giant corporations) would do everything they could to hijack the process, including pouring in billions of dollars to influence the reform. America would end up with a Constitution that guarantees "equal rights" to all corporations and "more than equal rights" to the rich. As in most political processes in this country, the poor and the middle class would lose more than they gain.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Reply
  12. JennyTX

    Can we specifically impose term limits on the office of Governor of Texas? We need to get rid of Governor Perry before he destroys our fine state any more.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Reply
  13. TBonePickens

    From reading many of the comments on here, it seems the basic problem is some people want us to change to a Democracy while others want us to stay a Democratic Republic.

    I prefer the Republic. A Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what's for dinner.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Reply
  14. LoLDem

    The primary reasons the Constitution is an amazing document that has survived for over 200 years are the authors. Since the assorted clowns, self-aggrandizing idiots, socialists, over-sexed shameless buffoons populated the majority of political seats, there are not enough people of merit, wisdom, or integrity to change the Constitution significantly. Paraphrasing Drucker, the problems of this country can be traced 100% to inferior politicians (management).

    June 20, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Reply
  15. AesopsRetreat_Forum

    Just like a non-American to think up changing the Constitution that made America attractive to immigrants in the first place.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Reply
    • betterthanjosh

      the original americans, native americans say screw you and the horse your constitution rode in on

      June 20, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Reply
  16. us1776

    The Senate was never supposed to be representative of the populaton.

    It was meant to be representative of the States.

    The House of Representatives is the body which is representative of the population. One man, one vote.


    June 20, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Reply
  17. Alexander Dunn

    Rewrite laws pertaining to firearm ownership, sale and distribution. Ban handguns and impose strict penalties on gun ownership, severe indictictment on criminals and those responsible for gun crime and death.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Reply
    • HiYa

      Hmmm. Who is going to protect you when someone overthrows the government. Don't be a fool!

      June 20, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Reply
      • betterthanjosh

        time for you to go, by gunpoint or otherwise

        June 20, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • AesopsRetreat_Forum

      NO, lets ReWrite Laws to Restrict Freedom of Speech so you can't say what you just said. In fact, let's just restrict the freedoms of everyone! That way its all equal again !

      June 20, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Reply
  18. Stacey

    Here are three ideas:

    1. Clarify that constitutional rights are held by PEOPLE, not corporations

    2. Clearly establish the implied right to privacy

    3. Requirement for a balanced budget, with some rare exceptions (war or super majority vote)

    June 20, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Reply
  19. Ash Meer

    Fareed Zakaria is smarter than more than half the people we elect or appoint to interpret our constitution, and probably as smart as more than half of the folks who helped frame the thing. He is a knowledgeable and engaged witness to our history, and has greater access to the great ideas of our time than many of us... I for one am pleased and flattered that he chooses to spend time and effort on helping us Americans gain some much needed perspective on our founding principles.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Reply
    • HiYa

      Do you really trust him? I don't trust him.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Reply
      • betterthanjosh

        i'm glad you don't because we don't need you

        June 20, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  20. sunnydays

    I am afraid we are not the country today that would produce enough intelligent thoughts to change the constitution. Our founding fathers had the foresight to think about what is good for the country. Today...everyone wants what is good for their own personal agenda. God help us if this thought gets legs. American Idol voting on our constiution? Please.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Reply
  21. Elles

    I think its funny how some of you have nothing better to do than to write massive comments on these things. Get out much?

    June 20, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Reply
  22. dcbart

    I believe Mr. Zakaria has a valid point in that we should at least begin the conversation on modifying our current Constitution and governmental institutions. Thomas Jefferson recognized that things must change over time. On the southeast interior wall of the Jefferson Memorial are these words from him: "I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." He recognized that the context of the time in which they wrote this brilliant document would change due to things they could not envision then.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Reply
  23. HiYa

    I would add that Islam is abolished and illegal in the Constitution. Any Muslims that didn't agree would be deported to Africa. Let's re-write it. Good idea Zakari u fing idiot!

    June 20, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Reply
    • betterthanjosh

      you are next

      June 20, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Reply
  24. Peter Emblad

    Great idea, but now is not the time. Our government is so dysfunctional now that members of the House don't even know a majority of others within their own party. Consider some of these facts:
    57% of republicans still believe Obama is a Muslim
    America is #17, 23, and 30 in Math, science and history in the world.
    – Is this the "educated populace" that will decide the new draft?
    Also, consider that there are over 9 Lobbyist for every Senator in D.C. Lobbying is now the Fourth Estate, and you better damn well believe they will have a hand in the final revision.

    Fareed, I love your mind and perspective, and if we had a country full of people like you and Thomas Friedman, I would absolutely go for this. But the reality is far from that, and our government needs to be fixed- but not from the general populace, and not with special interest having a hand, and not with the fierce partisanship that now exists. I would trust you to create one, but that's about it.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Reply
  25. Evan

    You think? We have been through every singe possible combination of a democratic/republican president with a democratic/ republican house and a democratic/republican senate and we fail to solve the problems that face our nation: failing schools, an outdated immigration policy, an energy policy that makes us more dependent on foreign oil, over regulations on small businesses, corrupt regulators for large corporations, the increasing trade deficit, the debt bomb that is the retiring baby boomers and the entitlements promised to them, the overly complicated tax code that has high rates yet a deduction and writeoff for just about everything, peoples reliance on welfare, the disappearing middle class, the fact that we are always at war, the continuing success of wall street at the expense of main street. The american republic has failed to find a solution to these problems in its current form, it must be changed. This is not about small vs big government this is about good vs bad government, effective vs ineffective government, a government for the people or not for the people more and more the US government is the latter. Even our founding fathers would recognize the need to either re-write the constitution or pass several amendments.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Reply
  26. Jeff Moskow

    In an age when virtually every election is decided by 51-49% our current system does not lend itself to politicians tackling the tough issues of the day be they social security, medicare, immigration etc. Since the solution to these problems more than likely would come at great political cost to those voting for the tough medicine needed to solve our problems. Yes we need alterations to our constitution perhaps even going for a Benevolent Dictator who could make the tough choices sure to alienate most voters.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Reply
  27. soraya

    Farid should go back to INDIA and fix his stupid country. It is our greatness and freedom that anybody from any where
    can come here and become somebody, like this LOOSER. We have enough radicals in this country that over the
    years have changed Americans way of life, and destroyed our education , our religion and everything they could
    get their hand on it. We dont need another looser who does not even understand our magnificent constitution
    to touch it. If you dont like our system go where you coming from and stick to it and LEAVE US ALONE.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Reply
    • betterthanjosh

      the sooner we end your set of screwed up values, the better

      June 20, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Reply
  28. Jared

    Like most others here, I agree that there's a reason for each state having only two Senators. It pains me as a Californian that my two liberal ladies' votes are usually cancelled by two guys from Wyoming, whose population is like 1% of California's. Still, this is the right way to craft the Constitution. I suppose people in Texas could make the same complaint about Vermont.

    The electoral college needs to go, period. It was an embarrassment to our country on the international stage in 2000, and it shouldn't happen again. It'd also get rid of some of the silly games played in campaign season, i.e. playing only to 'swing' states.

    Let's also devise some sort of system that enables a third (or fourth) party to actually be a major player. Under the current system, voters are discouraged from voting for anyone else since they seldom have a chance of winning. Perhaps a system where we vote for a party, and then seats in the legislature are divvied up proportionally? Open to ideas here, but I think most people are fed up with the two-party system.

    Let's also get rid of the requirement that the President be born in the US. We are a nation of immigrants. Why can't one be President? I think the requirement should just be "if you can vote for President, you can be President." Aside from that, leave it to the voting pubilc to determine the basis for disqualifying a candidate. At the very least it'd put an end to all this "birther" nonsense.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Reply
  29. Stan

    This article will give me nightmares for the next month.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Reply
    • betterthanjosh

      sweet dreams

      June 20, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Reply
  30. BrianTX

    Dear CNN,

    Fareed is a tool! Please, I implore you, fire his lame @#$ and hire some real talent!

    xoxo, Hillary

    June 20, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Reply
    • betterthanjosh

      he's your daddy

      June 20, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Reply
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