The Right Way to Amend the Constitution

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The Capital Times

The Right Way to Amend the Constitution

In response to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Constitution needs an amendment establishing that every American has a right to vote, says John Nichols. (Photo: Kim Davies/flickr/cc)

The U.S. Constitution should be amended to defend democracy.

It needs:

1. An amendment to renew and restore the historic American understanding that corporations are not people and that citizens (and their elected representatives) have a right to organize elections in which votes matter more than dollars. This response to an activist U.S. Supreme Court’s shredding of campaign finance laws in order to empower corporations and wealthy individuals has been endorsed by 18 states (through referendums and legislative action) and roughly 700 municipalities across the country (including dozens of Wisconsin towns, villages, cities and counties). 

2. An amendment establishing that every American has a right to vote. This response to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and to voter suppression schemes advanced by Republican legislatures has been co-sponsored by Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan, D-town of Vermont, and has received broad support from civil rights and voting rights groups in Wisconsin and nationwide.

3. An amendment to ban extreme gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts, as has been seen in Wisconsin and other states since the redrawing of district lines following the 2010 Census. While the courts are weighing responses to gerrymandering that recognize it as an affront to the U.S. Constitution, it is clearly time to establish basic standards in the nation’s founding document so that elections are competitive and voters can have a real say in defining the direction of communities, states and the nation.

4. An amendment to eliminate the Electoral College and establish a system for the direct election of the president — so that never again is an overwhelming loser of the popular vote installed in the Oval Office. This change is especially important for states such as Wisconsin, which do not have the same say as small-population states such as Wyoming, which are disproportionately empowered by the uneven allocation of electoral votes.

There are those who might suggest that so ambitious an amendment agenda might require a constitutional convention. But this country has, in reform moments, enacted multiple amendments in short periods of time — four from 1913 to 1920, including those creating an elected U.S. Senate and extending the franchise to women; four from 1961 to 1971, including those banning the poll tax and extending the franchise to 18-21-year-olds.

So why do Republican legislators in Wisconsin think a narrowly defined (yet still potentially chaotic) and rigorously anti-democratic constitutional convention is needed to advance a supposedly popular balanced budget amendment? The answer is that these legislators are playing petty political games to promote the agenda of corporate-funded groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, rather than engaging with the amendment process in a serious and meaningful way.

Amendments to the Constitution are good and necessary, as the founders of the American experiment well understood. They are the tools by which democracy evolves and advances. But the convention concept advanced by these Republican legislators is a convoluted and unnecessary distraction.

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