June 20th, 2011
12:26 PM ET

Is it time to update the U.S. Constitution?

We all know how Americans revere the Constitution, so I was struck by the news that tiny, little Iceland is actually junking its own Constitution and starting anew using an unusual - some would say innovative - mechanism.

The nation decided it needed a new Constitution and it's soliciting ideas from all of Iceland's 320,000 citizens with the help of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. This social media method has worked. Ideas have been flowing in. Many have asked for guaranteed, good health care. Others want campaign finance systems that make corporate donations illegal. And some just want the country to make shark finning illegal.

There is a Constitutional Council. It incorporates some of these ideas, rejects others, but everything is done in plain sight on the web. As one member of the Constitutional Council said, the document is basically being drafted on the Internet. 

Now, why do they need a new Constitution anyway? Well, after Iceland was crippled in recent years by the economic crisis, they all wanted a fresh start. And, anyway, they felt the document was old and outdated, drafted all the way back in 1944.

You might be tempted to say that Iceland doesn't have any reasons to be proud of its political traditions in the manner that the United States does. Well, think again.

Iceland is home to the world's oldest parliament still in existence, the Althing, set up in 930 A.D. The rocky ledge on which they gathered represents the beginnings of representative government in the world. So Iceland has reasons to cherish its history, and yet it was willing to revise it.

By contrast, any talk of revising or revisiting the U.S. Constitution is, of course, seen as heresy. The United States Constitution was, as you know, drafted in a cramped room in Philadelphia in 1787 with shades drawn over the windows. It was signed by 39 people.

America at the time consisted of 13 states. Congress had 26 senators and 65 representatives. The entire population was about one percent of today's number - four million people.

America was an agricultural society, with no industry - not even cotton gins. The flush toilet had just been invented.

These were the circumstances under which this document was written.

Let me be very clear here, the U.S. Constitution is an extraordinary work - one of the greatest expressions of liberty and law in human history.

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

But our Constitution has been revised 27 times.  Some of these revisions have been enormous and important, such as the abolition of slavery. Then there are areas that have evolved. For example, the power of the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, is barely mentioned in the document. This grew as a fact over history.

But there are surely some issues that still need to be debated and fixed.

The electoral college, for example, is highly undemocratic, allowing for the possibility that someone could get elected as president even if he or she had a smaller share of the total national vote than his opponent.

The structure of the Senate is even more undemocratic, with Wisconsin's six million inhabitants getting the same representation in the Senate as California's 36 million people. That's not exactly one man, one vote.

And we are surely the only modern nation that could be paralyzed as we were in 2000 over an election dispute because we lack a simple national electoral system.

So we could use the ideas of social media that were actually invented in this country to suggest a set of amendments to modernize the Constitution for the 21st Century.

Such a plan is not unheard of in American history.

After all, the delegates in Philadelphia in 1787 initially meant not to create the Constitution as we now know it, but instead to revise the existing document, the Articles of Confederation. But the delegates saw a disconnect between the document that currently governed them and the needs of the nation, so their solution was to start anew.

I'm just suggesting we talk about a few revisions.

Anyway, what do you think? Should we do this? And if we were to revise the U.S. Constitution, what would be the three amendments you would put in?

Let us know in the comment thread and we'll post the best ones on the Global Public Square.

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Topics: GPS Show • Law • What in the World?

soundoff (2,350 Responses)
  1. Tim M.

    I do not trust our politicians these days to make the level headed, practical and intelligent decisions necessary to amend or revise a document of such importance.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Reply
  2. Gantt

    We have term limits for our President and the ability to throw out the Representatives every two years and Senators every six. Why should legislation be exempt from a regular review and chance for elimination? Old, irrelevant, and cumbersome legislation and taxes ought to be revisited on a ten or twenty year basis or allowed to expire. If Congress deems the laws still useful then they are maintained, but if not, they get the axe.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Reply
  3. chickenman13

    Yes! I definitely think it's about time we fix our Constitution. While I'm fine with the makeup of Congress, the Electoral College has long overstayed its welcome.
    Three amendments?

    1) Get rid of the electoral college, and replace it with a 'one man, one vote' system. It's wrong how one candidate for president can beat another with less votes from the people.
    2) Get rid of term limits for the President. Every seat in government that there is an election for is without term limits, except for the President. I believe that FDR was our best President, and one reason for that is the fact that he spent 3 full terms in office.
    3) Require Congress to pass a budget each year before anything else.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Reply
    • ChristianC

      Obama has caused an enormous amount of harm to this country and he hasn't even completed his first term yet. And you would like him to remain indefinitely? Maybe you should move to the Middle East where despots lord it over their subjects for 20, 30 and sometimes 40 years...

      June 20, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Reply
  4. iwatchu

    unbelievable the stuff that gets thru 'editor's these days. just wow.

    really?

    why don't you walk off a cliff.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Reply
  5. D. Long

    The Founders that wrote the Constitution did so to prevent just the sort of mob rule-by-twitter envisioned in this article. As can be clearly seen by the suggestions made by Icelanders – free healthcare, criminalizing corporate speech, and banning sharkfin fishing – given the opportunity, the mob will vote themselves largesse at the expense of their fellow citizens, or vote away the liberties of their fellows. This is why we have a federal republic, limited in scope and power, and where the States are represented in the Senate, and in the Electoral College.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Reply
  6. bud

    Wherever this puke is from, he needs to go back, take a pole and Twit from there. His hero Barak is doing his best to scrap the Constitution anyway, followed closely by Republicans. Bozo

    June 20, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Reply
  7. GrandmeWI

    I gave you my answer and why and got told I had already answered. Is that what you do when you don't like the answer?
    Is that the way of the left?

    June 20, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Reply
  8. dbb

    Anyone who feels 2 senators from each state is not a fair representation does not understand the constitution nor the founding of this nation.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Reply
  9. Brian

    The more I think about the way the world has gone in the last 200 plus years I'm amazed at how well the constitution was written.
    Also when I think about the current crop of People in the "know", both in the USA and abroad I'm amazed that we would consider giving them a chance to muck it up.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Reply
  10. w whitman

    The Bush Supreme Court has already rewritten the Constitution, hasn't it? It's no longer "We the People," but "We the Corporations....."

    June 20, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Reply
  11. HH

    Mr. Zakiria I belive i will stick with the orginaly document and the method for changing it..how about you stick with your day job.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Reply
  12. Brent

    Allow big states to divide into smaller ones; enlarge the House of Representatives and base it on proportional representation; turn Senators into state ambassadors; add a third branch of Congress based on tax rates; create a third level of government between the Federal and the state (Provinces); use a Federal Executive Council like Switzerland's. Please see my blog http://13radicalchanges.wordpress.com/

    June 20, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Reply
  13. Brad

    One of the newest constitutions in our part of the world is Canada's Constitution Act, 1982.

    http://www.solon.org/Constitutions/Canada/English/ca_1982.html

    I prefer "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person..." over the Pursuit of Happiness. It's less hedonistic IMO.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Reply
  14. tallythatbannana

    "soliciting ideas from all of Iceland's 320,000 citizens" sounds a lot easier than trying to sift through comments from 300,000,000 citizens in the US. Besides, after reading many of the posts on CNN.com, it appears to me that far too many Americans would suggest that our new constitution ban Muslims and Islam, or make it legal to carry a machine guns at all times, or write in laws against abortion. The general american public is too stupid to be allowed that much power.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Reply
  15. Reality

    This is a ridiculous article. Iceland's population is 318.4K, 93% Icelandic; US population 311,590K with 3 major ethic groups and many others that have populations in the US greater than Iceland's total population. This factor of 1000 difference is the equivalent of comparing getting consensus in a classroom of 37, to getting consensus in Fenway Park (37K)! The US is the 4th most populous country in the world... CNN needs to stop writing articles that compare the US to countries that are smaller in population than most major metropolitan areas in the US... Please stop contributing to the overall stupidity in the US with your dumb comparisons!!!!

    June 20, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Reply
  16. Justin

    You Change Or Mess With Are Constitution In America It There Will Be War American Civil War 2 Or Revolutionary War 2 There Is No Other Answers

    June 20, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Reply
    • tallythatbannana

      Bloodthirsty warmongering is really the answer to trying to improve the constitution? You prove my earlier point.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Reply
  17. Jon

    REPEAL THE SECOND AMENDMENT!

    June 20, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Reply
  18. bud

    Write whatever Constitution you want as long as you go back where you came from. Moron

    June 20, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Reply
  19. marensoneperiam

    Lets Change IT!!! more like Update it & make it better. I♥America

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

    I second much of what WD Noble wrote. The country is so polarized, the two extremems dominating discussion and spewing so much hatred, I just can't see it working. It would fall into the wrong hands and make things much worse.

    What clearly is needed is to find a way to take the big money out of politics. Our leaders obtain massive amounts of money to get elected, and that must and always will lead to corruption. They are bought and paid for, and investors expect a return on their investment. This isn't democracy. An amendment that banned corporate, union, and other organization's contributions to elections is a start. Probably should ban all money in elections. Would need to create some kind of public forum where candidates expressed their views, a national TV hour of some kind.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Reply
    • tallythatbannana

      I agree. it's not democracy. it's capitalism. something that isn't anywhere in the constitution, although most Americans would probably assume it is.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Reply
  21. Dave

    Each state has a vote, zack. Its the United STATES... not free-for all voting. And thank God for that. I don't want states like mine (NJ) overshadowing Wisconsin, Missouri etc. And I do NOT want the immigrants (criminals for circumventing our borders) in this country to have voting rights, neither them NOR their U.S. born kids. They all should be sent back. Don't like it Zack? Then go back to India / Pakistan and work for Al jazeeera.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Reply
    • Alex

      Hi Dave,

      immigrants are not automatically criminals. Some go a hard path in legally entering the country, distinguishing themselves and getting a Green Card and eventually citizenship. And everyone born on US soil is a citizen, that's the law. That's why your ancestors are not criminals and illegal aliens. Go and ammend the constitution if you don't like it.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Reply
    • fsafernjk,b

      Al Jazeera is not in India.

      June 21, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Reply
  22. Kathy

    1. The annual fiscal year budget of the United States for any year cannot contain more expenditures than the income to be received in that fiscal year.

    2. If a balanced budget is not passed by both the House and the Senate and signed by the President by the first date of any fiscal year, all Congressmen/women, Senators, The President, and their staff members will receive 50% pay and per diem for the following 30 days. If a balanced budget is not passed by 31 days following the beginning of the year, all Congressmen/women, Senators, The President and their staff members will receive $0 pay and per diem until 14 days after a balanced budget is passed.

    3. No child born in the United States shall become a citizen of the United States unless one or both parents are US Citizens and any parent residing in the United States is a legal US citizen or resident alien.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Reply
    • Brad

      Kathy, Economics 101 dictates that governments should be able to use every tool available to manage the economy, including (oh the horror) raising taxes and running deficits when absolutely necessary.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Reply
  23. Justin

    You Change Or Mess With Are Constitution In America It There Will Be War American Civil War 2 Or Revolutionary War 2 There Is No Other Answers

    June 20, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Reply
    • betterthanjosh

      you justin are the only question. what we need more than a new constitution is a way to undo all the frontal lobotomies that you crakers have

      June 20, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Reply
  24. Evan

    How about proportional representation in the house?
    We have direct representation, which is why we have only 2 parties (each race comes down to only 2 candidates) in Europe they have Proportional representation which allows for multiple parties. This small change would greatly help the quality of representation because rather than your state having a couple of Democrats and a couple of republican reps that dont talk to each other your state would have a green party, a libertarian, a religious conservative, and a socialist that would be forced to work together (crazy i know) because no one party would ever have a majority.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Reply
    • Kathy

      Oh yes, and Europe has been doing so well with that. lol In reality anyone can run for office and they do not need to belong to any party. However, a person would have to have independent funding while running for office if they were to shun the major parties.

      June 20, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Reply
  25. kingjoe1

    The fact that the premise for the article is what Iceland is doing, negates the value in this piece whatsoever. Iceland as a nation is a failure, both socially and economically.
    Our nation needs to get the basic rights correct first, before thinking up new ones. This process that Iceland is going through is merely a method to distract the general public from the real issues.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Reply
  26. hustlnflo

    Who could we trust to rewrite the Constitution ?? There is no one around with the wisdom of the Founding Fathers. If our congress runs true to form, they would turn the rewriting over to the same lobbyists who write the legislation they pass every day.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Reply
  27. SteveinColo

    Ask the people through Facebook, YouTube and the like. Are you freakin' kidding. Ask the people who watch Reality TV and take it for fact. The people who are more concerned about some Kardashian sibling or some New Jersey whore than they are about our country and our government? Please be serious.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Reply
  28. Jerry

    You want change institute term limits for Senators and Representatives

    June 20, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Reply
  29. Ed

    It's called the amendment process. The writers knew that things would change and so put in a mechanism to so just that. FZ is simply a fool. The reason the US is the greatest country in history is because of the Constitution. It is not some dusty, dead document that needs to be re-written simply to reflect the whims of a fickle populous. It is a transcendental document, those who don;t understand this are short-sighted to the point they can;t see the wall they are about to walk in to.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Reply
  30. HH

    The men who wrote the constitution not only saw the growth of this country they planned for it in this document. The same men later went on to describe how we could destroy it. Much of what they warned has come to pass, instead of changing it how about we abide by it.

    June 20, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Reply
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