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 And, anyway, they felt the document was old and outdated, drafted all the way back in 1944.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

    Fareed – for someone with your credentials, your article is so simple minded that I can only imagine your intent was to stir the pot. The "democrats" are still pissed about being out-frauded and the "republicans" are still sensitive about the scathing, personal, and mindless attacks. Well done chap – you are nearing 2000 posts.

    June 20, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Reply
    • Don

      Democrats being "out-frauded"?

      Are you saying Wiener's wiener is a fake?

      Wow! No wonder his wife is pissed!

      June 21, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Reply
  2. Andy Weaver

    Fareed,

    I generally think the document created by the founders and altered over time by the amendment process is pretty good, not perfect, but good. I in no way think it is the supreme, infallible, never to be changed, governing document that many in this country hold it out to be. The founders knew at the time of writing they didn’t create the perfect document, quite honestly they knew they failed to deal with slavery issue. The original document didn’t include the Bill of Rights and as I understand was only added to obtain state support for ratification. They created the best document possible at the time.

    The most significant issues that need to be dealt with is not with the original document or the amendments, but with the interpretations that the Supreme Court have taken which have degraded our democracy and created a electoral system where wealth and money has more power and influence than intended. The amendments I would propose are to create a democracy in our electoral system, but not a pure democracy for the republican adherents.

    Amendments:

    1. Amendment defining that citizens or people are only living human beings and does not include organizations created by government authority (i.e. corporations).
    2. Amendment limiting campaign finance participation (contributions) to the citizens of the electoral district or state in question.
    3. Amendment requiring that all Congressional district boundaries be established by non-partisan commission of the related state.

    I want to add a comment on campaign financing. Many people support public financing of elections evenly distributed to the candidates, however, I’m not a support of this idea. I do have an alternative idea that is similar, but eliminates the equal distribution of funds. I believe the ability of a candidate to raise financing should have an impact on the campaign, given that contributions are only by citizens of the related district/state and are limited in general to prohibit the influence of the wealthy beyond their equal rights as a citizen.

    My idea is to allow an income tax credit up to the limit for all citizens make to political campaigns. The credit effectively makes it equal to the idea of using tax revenue to pay for campaigns, but at the same time allows for differences due to the ability of the candidates to appeal to the citizens of that district.

    June 20, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Reply
  3. aups1115

    Mr. Zakaria, thank you for your timely and relevant insight. The US constitution is very close to being a political anachronism in today's world, especially the Electoral College, an institution invented for the express purpose of keeping a check on the power of the people to elect their own leader. As one of the other commentators noted, this system was put in place in an era before modern communications, and this played a part in its implementation, but it was also put in place as a sop to slavery in the south and as a method of balancing the voting powers of large states with smaller states. Curiously, the latter function has been completely negated in modern times; the largest states have the most electors, and so they matter the most regardless. Indeed, in the modern world the electoral college serves no purpose other than to focus potential presidents' attention on a bare handful of states during each electoral cycle. Furthermore, at several points in American history the electoral college has served to actively defy the will of the people by awarding the presidency to men who actually lost the popular vote. In short, the Electoral College has been long since divested of any useful function, and now serves only to prevent fairer methods of election. It is unfortunate that so many of my fellow Americans suffer the usual knee-jerk reaction anytime anyone proposes a change to the Constitution, even one so arguably beneficial to the common good as removing the Electoral College.

    June 20, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Reply
  4. Tom Teicher

    Here are two suggestions, both intended to improve our democratic structure:

    1) To help ensure a level playing field regarding the public's access to political candidates' competing views, amend the Ist Amendment. After the words, "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech," add the words, "except to foster electoral impartiality."

    2) To stimulate Congressional decision-making that strikes a better balance between the country's long-term and short-term interests, a) limit the tenure of U.S. Senators and Representatives to a total of 12 years in Congress (whether serving in one house or both); and b) extend the terms of Representatives from 2 years to 4 years.

    June 20, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Reply
  5. Dave E

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

    Then those few revisions should be discussed and proposed as amendments to the Constitution, there is a process for that.

    There is NO reason to open a Constitutional Convention to propose a "few revisions". At a Con-Con, unfortunately everything and anything could be brought up for consideration.

    I say NO to your Con-Con request. If you wish to proposed a few revisions, stay within the Amendment Process as it exists. If the proposals are worthy of amendment, they should have no difficulty passing, yes?

    June 20, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Reply
  6. george plunkett

    Keep your filthy mits off OUR Constitution slum dog, tell your followers and thiefbama to get a job instead of stealing from productive Americans

    June 20, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Reply
    • betterthanjosh

      eat me rich sissy boy

      June 20, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Reply
  7. Jack

    Does CNN need Fareed Zakira?

    June 20, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Reply
    • betterthanjosh

      the answer is; we don't need you Jack

      June 20, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Reply
  8. cntrlfrk

    It's funny how every time the T.E.A. Party Patriots or others on the right sound a warning about people like this, the left immediately plays the race/LGBT/Class Warfare etc... card, then, when they actually pull the mask off for a brief moment, or they overreach with cronyism, corruption, and government powers and spending, you mesmerized fools turn around and blame the right again.

    Do you people on the left have the attention span of a gnat, or the intellect of one, or both???

    .

    June 20, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Reply
    • betterthanjosh

      wow, senile puppet, get your mommy to type this for you, you sound like her. try thinking before typing

      June 20, 2011 at 11:17 pm | Reply
      • cntrlfrk

        Still unable to put a rational sentence together?

        Well, there is always "copy/paste" made especially for people like you.

        Must be nice to be a democrat, and be able to do away with all of that "thinking" stuff.

        .

        June 20, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
      • betterthanjosh

        just didn't want to waste too many words on a fool like you, and i know your definition orf thinking = lying

        sorry little puppet that you are

        June 20, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
      • betterthanjosh

        just didn't want to waste too many words on a fool like you, and i know your definition of thinking = lying

        sorry little puppet that you are

        June 20, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  9. Jimma

    The electoral college is "un-democratic" because we are not a democracy. Democracy is mentioned no where in the constitution, and is the stepping stone to socialism. The United States is a Republic. Instead of changing the constitution maybe CNN should hire a reporter tyhat has studied it.

    June 20, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Reply
    • betterthanjosh

      lame, we'll just have to use you as a stepping stone to socialism

      June 20, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Reply
      • cntrlfrk

        Is that you, Obama?

        .

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

        no control freak, its your mama

        June 20, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
      • Jimma

        If the US was a democracy, you and the other 51% of your kind could vote me as your stepping stone. Unfortunately for you, we aren't a democracy. ow head on back to Huffington, and daydream about what a great utopia it would be if we could just tweak the constitution in your favor.

        June 20, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
      • betterthanjosh

        don't need a constitution and don't you vote. the democratic party is way too conservative, they are just nice republicans.

        So calling me a democrat and liberal doesn't even come close, ceertainly not able to offend me.

        I don't need to do a thing, you and your kind are digging your own graves, i just sit back and laugh as i wait.

        June 20, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  10. Chris

    The Constitution doesn't need to be rewritten, just certain elements need to be overhauled. The 14th amendment needs to be rewritten to remove its application to illegal immigrants, several other provisions need to be fixed to remove the loopholes that minorities exploit, etc.

    June 20, 2011 at 11:15 pm | Reply
    • betterthanjosh

      the only immigration issue that needs to be dealt with is the one that allows you to be here instead of the native americans. you've been scalped

      June 20, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Reply
      • cntrlfrk

        Thanks again Josh for being the poster boy for the democrat party.

        Next time try to throw in a little more hatred and spittle and we will give you a shiny toy.

        I hope you are proud of the failed president and the division he and people like you have brought on this country.

        .

        June 20, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
      • betterthanjosh

        too bad if laughing at the absurdity of you has hurt your little feelings.

        as for being a democrat, that is just way too conservative for me, they're just nice republicans.

        you are your own undoing and division, i need do nothing but sit back and watch you fall

        June 20, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  11. Carl P

    Easy:

    1. A balanced budget amendment that can be overridden with a declaration of war from Congress or a two-thirds majority in Congress.

    2. An amendment that allows a two-thirds majority of the state legislatures to veto any act from Congress within one year of its passage,

    3. Change the Electoral College distribution to 1 EV for every congressional district the candidate wins, with the majority winner receiving the state's two senate EVs. This allows for more democracy while still allowing agricultural states to maintain influence it deserves.

    June 20, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Reply
  12. Ann Howe

    111 indictment and counting – no self professed British Subject can be President of the United States. No worries there is no shortage of rope –

    June 20, 2011 at 11:22 pm | Reply
  13. KIRK

    betterthanjosh
    just threatened me becausei said id kill to protect our constitution
    as a soldier i swore and oath to do just that what a looney tune

    June 20, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Reply
    • cntrlfrk

      Thank you for your service, Kirk.

      This nation is the greatest on earth because people like you uphold and protect the basic rights and values of our fellow man.

      Pay no attention to lemmings like 'josh. He has not been schooled properly.

      .

      June 20, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Reply
  14. ripper

    Fareed has once again proven that it doesn't take a knowledge of history to write propaganda.

    June 20, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Reply
  15. popeye1128

    We already have a way to update our constitution, called the Amendment. And it is hard to pass them for a reason.

    June 20, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Reply
  16. L

    1. Fed. govt. has no authority to regulate commerce in or between the states. All authority rests with the states.

    2. Repeal the 16th amendment. No income taxes.

    3. The executive branch cannot create regulatory agencies. All regulations must be passed by Congress just like any law.

    June 20, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Reply
  17. rcj

    Kind of looks as though this guy should be relocated. Not sure where, just out of the 50 states.

    June 20, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Reply
  18. Montjoie

    You say you'll change the constitution
    Well, you know
    We all want to change your head
    You tell me it's the institution
    Well, you know
    You better free you mind instead

    June 20, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Reply
  19. Bill Brown

    It's clear that Fareed does not understand American governance. I think that a naturalized citizen should know better. The remote has always been wise enough to pass his program rather quickly because it's now apparent that the remote has more sense than he does.

    June 20, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Reply
  20. Lanky McFergusin

    You, sir, are a moron.

    The USA Constitution has held this country together since 1789 and has literally saved the world several times over.

    So let's change it?

    Thank you.

    June 20, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Reply
    • kirk

      HEAR HEAR LANKY

      June 21, 2011 at 3:59 am | Reply
  21. Gabriela I. M.

    (1) Amendment that all people residing on US land are guaranteed the right to healthcare

    (2) Amendment to publicize all higher education institutions, thus every person have the opportunity to attend a college or university that fits him or her best based on intellect, rather than financial means.

    (3) Amendment that allows only constituents be allowed to decide if their representative should or should not resign.

    June 20, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Reply
    • Jimma

      Nice Utopian shopping list. How about the "right" to take half of the neighbors loot at gunpoint? Wouldn't that be simpler?

      June 21, 2011 at 12:14 am | Reply
  22. rmaskiewicz

    How about a constitutional amendment which would entail combining democracy and demarchy? One half of the House and Senate would be elected per existing procedures, and half would be appointed (for single terms) by random drawings from state specific pools of citizen volunteers.

    June 20, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Reply
  23. Ann Howe

    A Self-Professed British Subject Posing Illegally as President of The United States and they think there isn't enough rope to hang them all. . .

    Funny, their leader never had any hope of winning the battle, it was never an option being the lesser power and all, his only hope was to see how many dupes he could hoodwink over to his side. . . There are more then a few dim bulbs inside the beltway – wow, sucks to be them real soon!

    June 21, 2011 at 12:04 am | Reply
  24. Joan

    I believe that we desperately need to update our ancient and dangerously ambiguous constitution.

    Amendments I would like to see:

    1. That the American government get out of the marriage business.
    Let 'marriage' be between whoever your church wants it to be, and it would only be recognized by your church
    and let every American citizen (regardless of sexual orientation) be able to be joined together in LAW by a civil union. Civil unions would be recognized at the federal level with all the tax and law benefits equivalent to what 'marriage' currently is. In my opinion, everybody wins. Religious people can still have their 'marriage' and whatever they want it to mean, but if you want a union between two people to be recognized by the government, it would have to be a civil union, gay or straight.

    2. That a separation of church and state be put into law.
    December 25th could still be a national winter holiday, but Christmas technically would not be. 'In god we trust' would not be our national motto, on our money, or in any pledge.

    3. And all colleges of higher education be public and regulated just like the rest of the free public education system.

    June 21, 2011 at 12:10 am | Reply
    • Jimma

      I'm also for COMPLETE separation of church and state. So I can establish my own church and opt out of all federal & state laws, taxes and regulations. Libs always seem to want the separation to be one sided though.

      June 21, 2011 at 12:20 am | Reply
  25. Vegas guy

    Mr. Zakaria,
    Feel free to move to Iceland and help them write the Progressive Constitution you obviously dream of. Include rights for every form of perversion you want and be sure to give extra rights to people who hate democracy. Just leave my constitution alone!

    June 21, 2011 at 12:15 am | Reply
  26. Modgi

    To change the US Constitution would unilaterally change mine and millions of other veterans oaths to defend it to the death. Including those who gave all for an absolute you would make fluid. Not going to happen, trust me here. oathkeepers.org

    June 21, 2011 at 12:19 am | Reply
  27. Ken

    It is a federal constitution that respects the rights and interests of the individual states. It is not meant to be anything else. We do not need to change the basics.

    My suggestions for tweaks (ie, amendments) include:

    1. Outlawing gerrymandering

    2. Making congress subject to the same laws as the rest of us (eg, insider trading and sexual harassment)

    3. Term limits for congress

    4. Provide a more precise definition of "interstate commerce".

    June 21, 2011 at 12:20 am | Reply
  28. David

    How about an amendment to ban Indian A-holes from moving to our country and trying to undermine it?

    June 21, 2011 at 12:27 am | Reply
  29. Jay Rafferty

    How about not giving the Communists a say in what our consitution should say? Fareed Zakaria is a communist and a friend of Barak Obama's. Google him and you will see his true agenda – and it's not American success, that's for sure.

    June 21, 2011 at 12:28 am | Reply
  30. John

    "American democracy is a system designed by a genius for effective use by stupid people."

    Chinese Lieutenant General Yazhou Liu

    sums it up nicely I think!

    June 21, 2011 at 12:35 am | Reply
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