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How Can We Fix the Constitution?

HOME / THE HIVE: How Can We Fix the Constitution? / The Winners of Constitution Smackdown

The Winners of Constitution Smackdown

Slate readers' best ideas for fixing the Constitution.

Illustration by Charlie Powell

Illustration by Charlie Powell

My fellow Americans:

As you continue to digest your Fourth of July hot dogs, salve your sun-kissed skin, and revel in yet another successful birthday party for Uncle Sam, give yourself a pat on the back. (Assuming, of course, you remembered to put sunscreen on it.) For you, America, have earned it. Your proposed Amendments to the Constitution have poured in—343 strong, with 6,339 votes—and Uncle Sam would be proud. A little embarrassed, perhaps, but proud.

We have reviewed the submissions, communed with the Framers, and determined the unassailable winners in each of the categories. But first, a few take-aways:

  • Pity the Legislature—poor, poor Congress. We the People clearly have a few bones to pick (make that a few thousand bones) with They the Representatives in the House and Senate. We already knew that Congress had an approval rating between bed bugs and the ebola virus. But if the sheer number of submissions that revise Congress are any indication, that benighted body isn’t about to improve its reputation anytime soon—not without some significant changes to the way it does its business.
  • We the People have strong feelings about term limits. Many are for. Some are against. Both sides have strong philosophical justifications for their positions.
  • Many citizens are tired of the two-party system. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there were not many cries for “let’s keep it as is.”
  • Many people believe D.C. should be granted full representation in Congress. Presumably they live in D.C.
  • No one likes the Electoral College, expect perhaps those who were elected because of it. No one likes gerrymandering, except those doing the gerrymandering. No one likes the filibuster, except those doing the filibustering.
  • Everybody likes the Preamble. Except for someone named Snarfangel.
  • We the People enjoy channeling our inner James Madison. Beyond the quantity and quality of submissions, it was especially inspiring (if not a little surprising) to see so many citizens go the extra mile and pose their suggestions in the most Constitutional voice possible. “Shall not be infringed,” “Shall make no law,” etc. We suspect if you had been able to write with a quill, you would have. To be sure, it wasn’t a requirement, but it was a delight.

And now, to the winners. Fife and drumroll, please:

CONGRESS—WINNER

For a nicely designed update to how members of Congress can do their business while staying in touch with their constituents:

“Telecommute, Congress!” by MeterReader

Why are there quorum requirements still in place for Congress? Why must members of Congress be present in the Capitol to vote on legislation? Why must they be present in D.C. at all? Millions of individuals work from home offices every day, and businesses regularly conduct internal meetings, exchange documents, and coordinate operations across offices scattered around the country. Yet Congress still operates in an 18th-century framework, requiring members to be in Washington in order to get anything done. The current process creates huge waste in travel, security, staff, and other support expenses. It also facilitates the kind of "backroom" deals, concentrated lobbying, and lack of transparency that voters hate. Send Congress home, but give them the tools to do their job from there. Let them vote from home, host committee meetings on FaceTime (open to the public), and share legislative drafts in an open forum. Of course, private communications could still occur, and private documents could be exchanged securely. And Congress could return to the Capitol several times a year for ceremonial events. It benefits us all to have our members of Congress spend more time in the home districts.

CONGRESS—HONORABLE MENTIONS

 “Abolish Geographic Representation” by Steve Robertson

In a global economy, the idea that we should have representatives of New York or Wyoming, as opposed to representatives of union workers, gays, or cat fanciers seems completely arbitrary. At least one house of the legislature should be composed of anyone who can collect enough online votes (yes, this proposal would have to wait for something like universal broadband) to reach a threshold for representation that is pegged off the census. Maybe each citizen gets five votes to allocate as he or she chooses. Maybe just one. But the system would reduce the power of the political parties by removing their gatekeeper function in congressional races.

“Congress Members Must Prepare Their Own Taxes” by Froggy

In order to return sanity to an insanely complex tax code, all Members of Congress must prepare their own tax returns, by hand, on paper, in ink. A simple algrebraic calculator may be used (add, subtract, multiply divide), but no computers, no accountants, no lawyers. Returns by all members will be prepared on a specific date, say April 14 from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., on the floor of the House/Senate, and will be televised to eliminate cheating. Penalties for errors to be enforced on the same terms as for ordinary citizens, i.e., the tax-payer is guilty unless/until he can prove himself innocent to an IRS agent with a quota to fill.

And finally, a tie for the “COMPANY MAN” Award:

“House of Corporations” by mjaffeldt2@gmail.com

Create a third house of Congress composed of corporations, each with a voting representative elected by its shareholders. Voting share shall be proportional to total amount of U.S. corporate income taxes, business licensing fees, and salary to U.S. citizens (excluding company executives) paid in the previous year. A 3/4 "no" vote in the House of Corporations will require a 2/3 overriding "yes" vote in the House of Representatives and Senate. At the same time, outlaw all corporate financial contributions and corporate lobbying in every other facet of federal elections and governing.

 “Tri-Cameral Legislature” by Jedi Toby

Many proposals have argued against corporate personhood. Mine runs the other way, by not only recognizing corporations but giving them direct power in Congress. I propose we add a third chamber to Congress, with representatives selected from corporations. Limit corporate donations to these races only. Require proposed legislation to pass in two of the three Chambers to be submitted to the President, but overriding vetoes would require 2/3 majority votes from all three chambers.

THE PRESIDENCY—WINNER

There’s really no getting around this one. If some American patriots have their way, the Electoral College’s days are numbered.

“Elect the President and V.P. by Direct Vote—No More Electoral College” by RadOwl

The electoral college system for electing the president skews the national focus to a few all-important states and their issues. By replacing the electoral college with direct election of the president and V.P., campaigns would have to treat states more equally. Plus, the ability to influence national results through corruption at the state level would be reduced.

THE PRESIDENCY—HONORABLE MENTIONS

The “WHAT DID BIDEN EVER DO TO YOU?” Award:

“Removal of Vice President” by Brown

In the event the president is impeached and removed from office, the vice president is automatically removed from office as well, unless a majority of the Senate votes to retain the vice president as president (and the vice president shall not have a tie-breaking vote on this question). There have been cases in which the president was at risk of impeachment for illegal conduct, but he was protected because his successor (Cheney, Quayle, Agnew) was perceived as "worse." Also, impeachment offers little route to compromise, and a distinct V.P. vote may grant a way for a party to negotiate to dump one of its bad apples while still maintaining hold on an office.

The “NO SERIOUSLY, WHAT DID BIDEN EVER DO TO YOU?” Award:

“More Vice Presidents and Give Them Jobs” by t6c

Elections are not just about the president; they are about his management team as well. Currently, we have a vice president who is elected with the president and does not manage anything. Then we have Cabinet secretaries who are appointed (and not identified) after the election and do the management. This can cause surprises both pleasant (Robert Gates as Defense Secretary) and unpleasant (Les Aspin as Defense Secretary). Increasing the number of vice presidents to three (or so) and specifying their duties (see examples) would reduce the president’s workload and give the voters a better idea of what they were getting. Example: The first vice president (V.P. for DoD?) could be responsible to the president for “Being the commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States, and his actions may be vetoed by the President if necessary.” The second vice president (V.P. for DoJ?) could be responsible to the President for “Taking care that the laws be faithfully executed, and his actions may be vetoed by the president if necessary.” The third vice president (V.P. for T?) could be responsible to the president for “Ensuring that all revenues and expenditures are properly collected, accounted, and reported, and his actions may be vetoed by the president if necessary.”

THE JUDICIARY—WINNER

Despite last week’s narrow 5-4 decision in the Affordable Care Act, it’s been said that Chief Justice John G. Roberts prefers a larger margin of, well, let’s call it victory. A few submissions agreed with the chief justice—in that regard, at least—following the lead of Harvard law professor Jed Shugerman and Stanford law professor Richard Thompson Ford:

“Supermajority To Overturn Laws” by KC64

A supermajority of at least seven Supreme Court Justices should be required to overturn laws as unconstitutional. When a law is passed by Congress or a state legislature, and signed by a governor or the president, it has already been deemed Constitutional by all those who approved it. If the law is to be deemed unconstitutional, it shouldn't be a close call. It should be obvious; hence the necessity for a supermajority.

“Consensus Supreme Court” by Shazlehu

Remember Brown v. Board of Education? The court knew that it was going to be a bitter pill for the nation to swallow. They realized that if they couldn't agree, how could they possibly expect the nation to agree. After Bush v. Gore and Citizens United, it's time to enshrine that simple principle. If nine people can't agree, 300 million people shouldn't be expected to either. Be it enacted: All supreme court decisions shall be unanimous.

THE JUDICIARY—HONORABLE MENTIONS

The “THANKS TO NEWLY-MINTED SWING JUSTICE JOHN G. ROBERTS, YOU MISSED IT BY THAT MUCH” Award:

“Reduce the Number of Supreme Court Justices to One” by ____

The current constitution (small "c") of the Supreme Court is unnecessarily cumbersome and inefficient. Marbury v. Madison tells us that it is the task of the Supreme Court to say what the law is. We are given in practice, however, the contrary opinions of justices who not only differ ideologically, but who mock one another openly like divorced spouses fighting over how to raise the kids. We see, for instance, Scalia and co., straining rabidly at their chain, just waiting, as Justice Blackmun predicted, for the opportunity to overturn Roe. This isn't law, it's Wrestlemania. Instead of the current system, the court should be composed of just one justice, appointed for life. We would save on eight justices and their clerks. And no one would really notice a difference would they? It's Anthony Kennedy, save the window dressing.

For the “PANDERING TO THE SLATE JUDGES” Award:

“The Bring the Supreme Court Into the 21st Century Amendment” by Eric Segall

The amendment would require cameras in the Supreme Court, allow reporters to tweet while attending the court (on silent), require each justice to ask one question as least once a year; and require the justices to appear at least once a year on The Daily Show, 60 Minutes, Colbert, or any other national news/comedy program of the justices’ choice.

EVERYTHING ELSE: THE OTHER ARTICLES—WINNERS

Article IV has a noble goal: Get the states to play nice. It doesn’t always succeed. A couple of fixes:

“Congressional Districts to Cross State Lines” by Fat Guy from Queens

In addition to other sage ideas like eliminating gerrymandering of congressional districts, we should stop shoehorning congressional districts into state borders. Let's face it, most states are more administrative divisions than actual entities with shared values. Colorado, for example, is not a state—it's a rectangle! Would it not make sense for the representative of Durango to also represent communities with similar interests over in New Mexico? Shouldn't the representative from Chelsea in Manhattan also be concerned with Hoboken across the river? Most issues are regional, and do not end at a border that originated as a line on a surveyor's map.

“Interstate House Congressional Districts” by gregar

Based on the current U.S. population, each of the 435 members of the House is supposed to represent a constituency of about 650,000 people. A certain amount of variation is unavoidable. But Denny Rehberg of Wyoming and John Carney of Delaware each represent about 900,000 people. At the same time Cynthia Lummis of Montana dotes on a mere 500,000. This inequity is due to the fact that congressional districts can't cross state lines. They should. This change would also temper a certain amount of unproductive “us vs. them” political grandstanding. A rep with a district split between (say) Northeast Ohio and Northwest Pennsylvania (with a majority in Pennsylvania) would have to consider the possibility that, come next round of redistricting, he might find himself with a district with a majority (or even entirety) in Ohio. It would temper relationship between local/regional/national interests. This change would also allow residents of D.C. fair representation and even, under possible scenarios, a representative who actually lives in their district.

EVERYTHING ELSE: THE OTHER ARTICLES—HONORABLE MENTIONS

The “YOU JUST MESSED WITH TEXAS” Award:

“Let 'Em Go” by Common Sense

"Any State may secede from the United States upon two successive votes, by a three-fourths majority of all members of their legislatures in two consecutive legislative sessions, followed by a referendum of the people of the State concurring with an absolute majority of all registered voters. Upon secession, the seceding State shall be apportioned a pro rate share of the national debt."

The “THOMAS JEFFERSON WOULD BE PROUD” Award:

“A Constitutional Convention Every 20 Years” by RadOwl

Amend the Constitution to automatically call a Constitutional Convention every 20 years, roughly the span between generations. It would give each new generation a stake in their government and input into it, and generate excitement among all citizens for delivering real change.

AMENDMENTS TO THE AMENDMENTS—WINNER

We’re told by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United that corporations are people, entitled to the same First Amendment speech rights as individuals, and therefore free to contribute to political campaigns. Contra the Company Man Award above, there were many variations on the theme that corporations shall not be considered people. No matter where you come down, you have to be be impressedby the (very) thorough imprecision of the following proposal:

“Corporeal Rights Primacy” by JimV

Notwithstanding protections for and exercise of the legitimate rights under "personhood" status granted by statute and case law to corporate entities, the rights granted to corporeal persons shall not be abridged, compromised or overridden by the exercise of the rights associated with any corporate entity. In one critical respect corporate entities are distinctly unlike corporeal entities, which as natural biological human persons are mortaleach and every human will die and ultimately cease to exist, and the ability to exercise the individual and collective rights granted under the Constitution will cease with their passing. Although corporate entities may cease to exist due to voluntary or forced dissolution under different circumstances or legal actions taken internally or imposed onto it by market and/or judicial forces, absent any compelling external factors or internal decisions a corporate entity can and does transcend the mortal lifespan of any individual or group of individuals which comprise its ownership at any given point in time and so attain a type of immortality unavailable to all corporeal entities. Furthermore, no corporate entity is, in and of itself, vested by the Constitution with protection of the fundamental right granted in the Declaration of Independence (which underlies the Constitution and is implicit within its foundation for all its Articles) for "the pursuit of happiness". Happiness is a state of emotional being (or emotion-based state of existence) associated with the complex personal assessment of goals, aspirations, expectations, objectives, choices and accomplishments derived from the core biological capability of dreamingexperiencing the psychological transcendence of an internal dream-state into which only corporeal entities are capable of entering. Corporate entities can and certainly do undertake many different actions that evaluate or assess their state of existence and may engage in various actions to plan activities, new ventures, develop strategy options, "brainstorm" potential creative endeavors and a variety of forward-looking actions and undertakings in support of maintaining or furthering their existence, but as a nonbiological entity it cannot dream. Whatever the collective aspirations of its ownership may represent, the expression and codification of that simulated "dream" cannot exceed or even equal the character, relevance and force associated with those experienced by corporeal entities. In the most narrow and restrictive circumstances where total corporate ownership is solely vested in one biological human being, restrained by limits of legal power established by society on corporate authority it may only approach some imperfect degree of equality of protection under the Declaration-grounded Constitution.

AMENDMENTS TO THE AMENDMENTS—HONORABLE MENTION

The “RESPECT YOUR ELDERS!” Award:

“Weight Voting by Age with Younger Voters' Votes Having More Weight” by Winn

Policies enacted by the federal government will have a much more lasting impact on younger voters than on older voters. Furthermore, spending and borrowing provisions will have a larger impact on younger voters (who will have to pay back the national debt for more years than their older counterparts). By giving the votes of younger voters greater weight than those of their older counterparts, the membership of the executive and legislative branches can be structured to look out for the long-term health of the country rather than for the short-term benefits of older voters at the cost of the long-term health of the country and the future earnings of younger voters. The mechanism through which this will work is that the vote of an 18-year-old (and 18 will still be the minimum age at which one is eligible to vote) will count 100 times more than the vote of someone who somehow makes it to age 118 or older. The vote of a 19-year-old will be worth 99 percent that of an 18-year-old, the vote of a 43-year-old will be worth 75 percent of that of an 18-year-old, the vote of a 68-year-old will be worth half of that of an 18-year-old, and so on. Votes will still be for individual members for Congress, electors for president, state and local elected officials, and any ballot initiatives or referenda that may be on the ballot, but the whole idea is to give politicians the incentive to cater to policies that will benefit the country in the long term by being more responsible and more responsive to those who will be citizens and voters for a longer period of time.

NEW AMENDMENTS—WINNER

WE HAVE A TIE!

In this corner, no less than a complete re-do:

“Rewrite the Entire Constitution in Modern Language” by Korrektus

Countries occasionally rewrite their entire constitution from scratch, in order to have an up-to-date, modern document. Example: Switzerland recently replaced its Napoleonic era constitution with a new one, drafted by a commission with input from all interested parties, and finally approved by national referendum, requiring approval by 2/3 of the cantons and citizenry overall. The existing amendments would be integrated into the body. By rewriting the Constitution in such as way as to make clear what the rights and privileges of citizens and the various governmental bodies are, there would be much less work for the Supreme Court to do. Example: Instead of talking about "a well regulated" militia, the document could simply state that ordinary citizens are entitled to possess basic firearms, including pistols, rifles, and shotguns, and could spell out under what circumstances governments, state or local, could regulate the ownership or carrying of firearms. Example: Instead of letting the federal government regulate almost anything it can get away with via the "Commerce Clause," the document could spell out in more detail what the federal government can regulate. (How the Commerce Clause can be used to give the federal government the power to regulate medical drugs and recreational drugs, instead of the states, is beyond me.) Since people and politicians can argue until they are blue in the face over Roe v. Wade, health care, discrimination, and anything else, it might seem an impossible task to get them to agree on a new document, much less get one ratified. But somehow, the Swiss did it, and they have liberals and conservatives, religious and non-religious, militarists and pacifists, just like everywhere else. The important thing is that the document has to be ratified by the people. So it is self-defeating for any intractable party helping draw up the document to insist on some radical text to fit their agenda.

And in this corner, a humble suggestion that we needn’t be so hasty.

“The Constitution Is Not Broke” by Ed

There is nothing wrong with our Constitution. The document has served very well for over 225 years. Its thoughts and ideals have made this country the greatest country to ever exist. The amendment process was made as it is to prevent knee jerk reactions and quick changes that in the short term look wonderful but prove to be harmful (remember Prohibition). If we strive to live by what is outlined in the Constitution and quit trying to interpret it to fit the current fad belief of the day then we would be much better as a nation. The Constitution is not a living document but a document that establishes the framework for our way of life. It's not perfect but it's a hell of a lot better than anything else.

NEW AMENDMENTS—HONORABLE MENTION

And lastly, the “FINALLY, SOMETHING WE CAN ALL GET BEHIND?” Award:

“Proposal Regarding Vigilante Justice” by Darth Conans

Neither Congress nor the states shall make any laws limiting the rights of the people to Batman. Activities included under Batmanning include nonlethal costumed vigilantism, being a reclusive and secretive billionaire, and having a young ward. This amendment shall not be taken to include Punishering. Incidents of Rorschaching will be addressed on an individual basis, with courts granting some measure of leniency based on how nihilistic the perpetrator's worldview is, how horrific their childhood was, and whether or not they have a creepy voice.

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