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 And, anyway, they felt the document was old and outdated, drafted all the way back in 1944.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

    This guy takes a failed government and says they are doing it why bnot us? we have been in the lead for over a century on ANY contry because iof the consitution and this brown man can tell us all he wants but he is an anchor baby and needs to be shipped back to Pakistan or some other ungodly place they came from.

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

      in an effort to bring higher education to hillbillies like you, we are bringing Pakistan to you.. eat it

      June 20, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Reply
  2. sense4sure

    CNN never ceases to surprise me. Who exactly would write this new constitution, our politicians? They can't even spend within our means. We are the BEST country in the world with NO exceptions, due to our constitution. CNN why not spend you time and money on better things than suggesting such stupid things

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

      its so fun to see how you the stupid see intelligence as dum

      June 20, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Reply
  3. Federalist

    Sounds like a great way to start a civil war. Leave it alone.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Reply
  4. Cliff D

    The items that Mr zakaria has discussed certainly bring up good questions for consideration, but not even close to the discussion for rewriting the Constitution. If he thinks the Senate is out of date (it was a must to get the small states to ratify it), let's look at an amendment, not a do over. Even better, if we want to fix our political system, let's lift the 1929 freeze on representatives and go back to 1 for 50,000 residents. That's real change that can be readily enacted. What stops it? representatives hate to be 1 out of 435, could you image them being 1 out of 6000?

    June 20, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Reply
  5. James

    Time to get rid of anchor babies, ban on same sex marriage and a few others. All of which would easily pass a vote by all the states.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Reply
  6. concernedamerican221

    the constitution has been changed without any of you know obviously its called the patriot act. god you people need to start to open your eyes and see whats going on instead of believing everything you hear in the media. im so sick of robot america. this country was founded on free thinking now if you post something on the internet against this administration your a rebel. So obviously freedom of speech is slowly being thrown out the window too. whatever though you people continue to live in your fantasy world but when this place crumbles, and it will crumble you can plead ignorance because there are people informing you.

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

      You don't know the difference between a law and Constitution? You're probably not alone.

      The Constitution is the one thing that can save America from the Patriot Act.

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

    Eliminate the electoral college. It's an archaic & unjust concept that unfairly rewards States that fail to attract a population vs. those who earn a larger population.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Reply
  8. vincent

    Another arabic muslim s**t head trying to mess with our way of life. Leave america alone already. We do need to secure our borders also. Freakin a....

    June 20, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Reply
    • AesopsRetreat_Forum

      Gosh, who would have seen THAT coming??

      June 20, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Reply
    • betterthanjosh

      vincent, tthink i'll stay til i'm done with your and your country

      June 20, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Reply
    • fsafernjk,b

      It is Arab.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Reply
  9. The Pissed Off Tree Rat

    After reading this article over again the basic logic presented, for needing a rewrite, is that it's "old"? Just look at phrasing such as: "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.". This whole piece is nothing but a pointless propositional fallacy. I wish I could be payed to write unfalsifiable nonsense and claim to be some form of journalist. The arguments often cited against the Constitution are more often than not actually related to the recurring "legal interpretations" of it's meaning in lieu of what was actually written in the document itself. Maybe we should "rewrite" the standards of employment for state and federal judges before we touch the Constitution of the United States of America.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Reply

    HELL NO!


    June 20, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Reply
    • betterthanjosh

      clearly you are afraid of those kids turning out like you

      June 20, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Reply
    • sagbjjk3mrb vjnsvbwkajfam,

      If they don't adopt children, then those children without parents would live an even worse life. I neither support or not support homosexuality, but I think they should get equal rights.

      June 21, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Reply
  11. Evan

    I would just like to point out that our founding fathers were alcoholic, wig wearing, slave owning, pot smoking weirdo's that would be shocked at what the constitution they designed has turned in to, and would favor re-writing it, because we are so far removed from the original intent on the constitution that our nation would be unrecognizable to them.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Reply
  12. Jjay Fisher

    The 3 amendments I would include are renunciation the Electoral Vote, a balanced budget, and not allowing gay marriages

    June 20, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Reply

    HELL NO!

    June 20, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Reply
    • RJ

      Stop being such a homophobe

      June 20, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Reply
  14. Jeff from Fredericksburg, VA

    This piece of garbage is most ridiculous propaganda piece I have ever read.

    Number one the Senate was set up the way it is set up with equal representation regardless of population because The United States of America is a Republic based on the Law and Individual Liberty and Freedom NOT a Democracy. The Founding Fathers were as much afraid of Democracy as a Tyranny. The Latin root meaning for Democracy is Majority Rule or in other words Lynch Mobs and Mob rule.

    a : government by the people; especially : rule of the majority

    There is a process that we can change the Constitution and that is by an Article V convention. Also, the Founding Fathers knew how precious the American Experiment was so they made it extremely hard to Amend the constitution.

    The Senate acts as a check on more populous states taking away the rights from the least populous states. If we made the changes that this article suggests than 51% of the people could take away the rights of the other 49%. The whole point of a Republic is to protect the minority Vote and to lessen the concentration of power into a few hands. The founding fathers knew that Governments over time always centralize power more and power which always ends in Tyranny and oppression. Any student of History can tell that in 100% of the cases this progression always happens.

    I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,
    and to the Republic for which it stands,
    one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

    In the Pledge of Allegiance we all pledge allegiance to our Republic, not to a democracy. "Republic" is the proper description of our government, not "democracy." I invite you to join me in raising public awareness regarding that distinction.
    A republic and a democracy are identical in every aspect except one. In a republic the sovereignty is in each individual person. In a democracy the sovereignty is in the group.

    Republic. That form of government in which the powers of sovereignty are vested in the people and are exercised by the people, either directly, or through representatives chosen by the people, to whome those powers are specially delegated. [NOTE: The word "people" may be either plural or singular. In a republic the group only has advisory powers; the sovereign individual is free to reject the majority group-think. USA/exception: if 100% of a jury convicts, then the individual loses sovereignty and is subject to group-think as in a democracy.]

    Democracy. That form of government in which the sovereign power resides in and is exercised by the whole body of free citizens directly or indirectly through a system of representation, as distinguished from a monarchy, aristocracy, or oligarchy. [NOTE: In a pure democracy, 51% beats 49%. In other words, the minority has no rights. The minority only has those privileges granted by the dictatorship of the majority.]

    The distinction between our Republic and a democracy is not an idle one. It has great legal significance.
    The Constitution guarantees to every state a Republican form of government (Art. 4, Sec. 4). No state may join the United States unless it is a Republic. Our Republic is one dedicated to "liberty and justice for all." Minority individual rights are the priority. The people have natural rights instead of civil rights. The people are protected by the Bill of Rights from the majority. One vote in a jury can stop all of the majority from depriving any one of the people of his rights; this would not be so if the United States were a democracy. (see People's rights vs Citizens' rights)

    In a pure democracy 51 beats 49[%]. In a democracy there is no such thing as a significant minority: there are no minority rights except civil rights (privileges) granted by a condescending majority. Only five of the U.S. Constitution's first ten amendments apply to Citizens of the United States. Simply stated, a democracy is a dictatorship of the majority. Socrates was executed by a democracy: though he harmed no one, the majority found him intolerable.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Reply
    • JST

      Yet many democratic countries give more (or equal) rights to minorities. Your comparison is flawed...

      June 20, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Reply
  15. JST

    This process is past due. You can't remain a world power if your basic laws are based on an outdated paper from the 1700s. Wake up America and listen to what the author (and many other people) are telling you. It's only people who are scared to loose some misinterpreted laws that are against updating it. Gun control comes to mind. If we would really translate the constitution you would be entitled to manually loaded hand gun or rifle with single shot ammunition... As long as that group can't see beyond their limited horizon, I don't have much hope for this to go any further though. Unfortunately, that probably means that we won't be a major player in the world much longer...

    June 20, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Reply
    • Rob

      JST – you cannot be serious? The Constitution, regardless of what time period we are in, is a timeless piece of genius whereby it is the first time that a document detailed the power lies within each of us, and that it limits the power of Gov. You are in charge, not your Gov.

      As far as your naively asinine comment re: "gun control" – again, the founding fathers knew that in order to stave off a corrupt Gov takeover (think Taliban, Syria, Yemen, Libya, etc) that the last line of defense lives within each of us. Our right to bear arms means that we can ensure that our Gov doesn't overstep its bounds, if need be (ie, by way of revolution – just in case you are too dense to understand the intent).

      Our Constitution LIMITS the power of Gov and reminds us that the power lies within each of us – however, after reading many of these comments, some of you people are begging to give up your rights & freedoms, and gladly hand them over to a Government... be careful what you wish for, you just might get it!!

      I bet the folks over in those countries I mentioned wish they had a guaranteed right to bear arms right about now, while they are hopelessly trying to fight their corrupt, all powerful Gov – don't you?

      June 20, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Reply
      • JST

        I am sorry, but the constitution is outdated and your arguments show that there is some serious misinterpretation going on. I also don't think that the constitution is timeless piece of genius. It was a first attempt at something that has been done much better in many other countries since then. If you don't believe me, please ask someone who is knowledgeable about this. A good example would be Germany. They call their constitution "Verfassung" and it is also a document that is hard to change, but yet they manage to update it whenever it is really needed.
        I can also only laugh about your "revolution" option. Do you really think that our government (or any other government) would allow protesters (or rebels) to take control of the nuclear arsenal by overthrowing the government? You would more likely see nuke mushrooms over rebellious states... Anyhow, this is all just empty talk to hide behind the constitution to find a justification to own guns. Like I suspected in my original posting people would never allow this discussion to take place because they are so scared to loose their "rights" that they miss out on understanding the importance to improve.

        June 20, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
      • Rob

        JST – hmmm, I wonder what happened during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War – could it be that we, the people, rose up & fought against what we believed to be a tyrannical Gov? If you don't think that power lies within most people, then you are sadly mistaken. Perhaps a few leftist pacifist whackos, but most people WOULD take up arms & fight for their freedom, if need be.

        You are sadly not understanding the Constitution – it is NOT a document detailing Government's powers over the people, it is a document detailing the people's powers over the Government. That is a key difference that many libbies do not get.

        You do NOT want the Gov telling you what to do – oh sure, a leftist Gov might make laws which make you happy – but ummmm, what about when a far right Gov gets into power? That's why there are checks & balances, and limits to Government power.

        As far as your ridiculous example re: nuclear controls – ummmm, look around the world right now. You don't have to have control of the largest weapons (nukes) to wrest control from a corrupt Gov. Your argument makes no sense & only shows your ignorance of the history of this country.

        If you want to live in a country where the Gov tells you what to do, there are many in existence today – take your pick & move there. Most real Americans are happy with the freedoms we have here (at least what's left).

        June 20, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
      • betterthanjosh

        take your constitution and shove it

        June 20, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  16. Evan

    I think you're opening a can of worms by looking to Facebook, of all places, for any Constitutional illumination. My God, that's like turning to fans of Oprah (with all due respect to the Diva of Everything) to decide how to fix the housing crisis. The whole Facebook experiment in Iceland is ludicrous and no good can come of it.

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

    There are two big problems with the American political system: a primary system for choosing candidates which, in practice, gives too much power to a tiny groups of extremists on each end of the political spectrum.

    Single member districts, as opposed to some sort of proportional representation system, creates an environment where there is no possibility of other political parties to exist.

    Thus, only the fruitcakes and nutjobs are represented in government.

    We do need a constitutional rework to fix this.

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

    No, we are NOT simply a Democracy OR a Republic. We are a CONSTITUTIONALLY LIMITED Republic, a.k.a, CONSTITUTIONALLY LIMITED REPRESENTATIVE Democracy. Learn to get your terms straight next time.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Reply
  19. frank

    There's a practical reason to retain the electoral college for electing presidents. The 2000 vote in Florida was recounted because the margin was les than .5% of the votes cast. If we went to a system of popular voting wherein a majority was needed to elect a president and the margin was less than.5% than THE WHOLE BLOODY COUNTRY WOULD BE SUBJECT TO A RECOUNT, and we could be faced with the problems we had in Florida times 50!!!!!!

    June 20, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Reply
    • JST

      It seems that you somehow missed the last election where many states had tons of recounts. Sometimes almost statewide. Not just a Florida problem anymore.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Reply
  20. Joselito De Jesus

    First of all I would not bother living in a country that has no gun rights for it's citizens. Second of all I would not like to imitate the constitution of a country that makes none religious people pay a religious tax under article 62 of its constitution, it reminds me a little too much of the jizya tax that none muslims have to pay under sharia law for not being muslims. 3rd of all Facebook is one of the lamest American inventions, which is the reason that it has lost 6 million members in the US alone and one 1.5 million members in Canada just this year. We as Americans can do better than that and we are better than that. 4th of all what works in a country with the population of four hundred thousand will definitely not work in a country with with a population with well over three hundred million people. Let's not forget the fact that Americans have 50 individual constitutions in 50 different states that guarantee rights for every state aside of our national constitution, which is a testament to the superiority of our constitution in it of itself. With that being said our constitution has stood the test of time and has been proven faithful. Left leaning thinkers would I like us to think there is something special about socialist constitutions and the way they do their thing but there isn't. I have lived and traveled through socialist countries and none can compare to the good old USA, and none warrant half of the to rights that and average American is guaranteed by our constitution, so why change something that works? Everything is done better here in the good old USA with a few exception like public education and the outsourcing of American jobs to name a few but these things can be remedied with the right leadership not by modifying our constitution. In this report Zacariah is right on only one thing, and that is that the crappy constitution of Iceland which mentions the rights of the president 60 times in 30 of it's79 articles needs a serious update so that it can look a lot more like ours.

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

    Mr. Zakaria. There was a time when I wondered if you really cared about America. But obviously you only care about what you can change. I was in Iceland for about 2 years. And I can tell you they are highly educated. As a country much more so than we are. Some even speak three languages. So it comes as no surprise that you show envy as they revise their constitution. Here, we don’t have passion for this country only entitlement envy and family degradation. They (Icelanders) care a lot about their history, their culture and they are not afraid to let it show. However when we show passion, you quickly dismiss it as racism or bigotry.

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

    Amendment 28

    No elected official in the United States of America shall receive any contribution, gift, remuneration, honorarium, or service of any value, from any source, other than from an individual American citizen. Any violation of this amendment shall be punishable as a federal crime with loss of office and mandatory incarceration in a federal penitentiary.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Reply
  23. Frank H

    Fareed Zakaria seems to believe that some sort of limited populist uprising can overcome what he views as "Un-democratic and unconstitutional provisions within the American Constitution". This guy went to both Yale and Harvard and apparently has no understanding of the Constitutional Process within the American Republic. How does a guy go through 7+ years at Ivy League Institutions and still be ignorant of the process or the Republic in which he lives???

    June 20, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Reply
  24. Steven Rogers

    Change the US Constitution? There's a process for that... it's called Amendments.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Reply
    • nick2

      Oh Gawd – can't you just keep your opinions in private – on skype video ?

      June 20, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Reply
  25. AesopsRetreat_Forum

    Lets ReWrite the Constitution so that the Media can only write what the government says they can write. Oh wait – I'm sorry. I think I was having a flashback to a time when that wasn't already true....

    June 20, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Reply
  26. Vincent Lovece

    I'm guessing Mr. Zakaria has never heard of the amendment process and that it CAN be amended, as it has been in the past.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Reply
  27. Dennis Hartman

    1. Eliminate electoral college
    2. House limited to three 4 year terms
    3. Senate limited to two 6 year terms
    4. Senate and House expanded to better represent population'
    5. All group political donations illegal. Individual only and full disclosure required.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Reply
    • hustlnflo

      great post!

      June 20, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Reply
  28. Data1000

    America currently does not have the social and political maturity to debate this subject. Any debate would quickly descend into fear mongering, name calling, and paranoia.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Reply
  29. Lyle Skeen

    WE SOOO SHOULD DO THIS!! reasons..cause were in a new century hell they didnt have cars, internet, cyber bullying ect ect in the days! I think we need to do a new constitution but with the same standards as we have with whole whole powers and everything. I think we would have to get rid of the elector college for sure!! that just unacceptable! I would add in Full Equality to Homosexuals and add in a Article for Animal Rights!!!also as well as eco friendliness. we could also add more laws for people rights in the cyber world in our constitution that we don't have that we need!! omg i could go on and on! but yes we should take after iceland, it is a time to Restart, Refresh!! We are a newer generation newer people and more up to date.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Reply
    • Stan

      "they didnt have cars, internet, cyber bullying ect ect in the days..."

      You're describing transportation, communication, crimes against person and property, etc. Those concepts have been around for thousands of years.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Reply
  30. Alex

    The constitution only works to this day because its content has to be twisted and contorted to fit today's world. Imagine all the things that were connected with the Constitutions Commerce clause, from sex offender registration, guns on school grounds to drug enforcement.
    Other content of the constitution was left open for wide interpretation, or it was simply not explained what was meant. What is a "well regulated Militia", what are "Arms"? What is a "natural born citizen"? Because all of these are not defined further, it is not up to representatives of the people, but up to a few appointed judges for life, to decide on core parts of the constitution.
    Many other countries have new constitutions that have evolved from the US constitution, often with significant help and input of the US government. The US constitution is a great work for its time, but for many things it has become like reading tea leaves.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Reply
    • Rob

      most people understand these concepts, except, I guess, liberals. We, the people, can form a militia complete with "arms" (weapons), should the need arise, in order to defend ourselves against a tyrannical Gov.

      I am utterly flabbergasted that most liberals are begging to give up their rights & freedoms for more Gov control & power...

      June 20, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Reply
      • Stan

        No kidding. It be nice if the non-Liberals (Conservatives?) would form a political party.

        June 20, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
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