March 25 • 08:14 PM

Revise the Constitution?

January 21, 2009
Professor Larry Sabato, founder of the Center For Politics at the University of Virginia, has just written a book in which he defines some 23 proposals for revising our Constitution. When I taught Political Science the idea of revising the Constitution seemed to me a dangerous proposition at best, since I believed the founding fathers had done a pretty good job with the document they came up with in 1787.

Sabato argues however the founders never intended the Constitution to be timeless and over a period of time it was possible that governmental structures could become fundamentally unfair and titled to those already in power.

So long as 17 percent of the voters elect a majority of our senators and the presidency has assumed unprecedented and unintended powers while politicians spend as much time campaigning for office as they do governing, the average American feels so disconnected from the political process that half or more of them don't bother to vote in many elections.

Increasingly alarmed that our political system has become dysfunctional and unfair due to the partisan gridlock which dominates Washington, Sabato suggests that perhaps the time has come "to begin a generational process of moderate, well-considered

change to remedy these inequities."

In his book, 'A More Perfect Constitution,' Sabato proposes a number of reforms which he believes are consistent with the values of pragmatism, fairness, and idealism which underpin the Constitution.

"Since much of the Constitution's superstructure needs no fundamental fix, including the separation of powers into three branches, the system of checks and balances, and (with few exceptions) the Bill of Rights," Sabato writes, the revisions he would support are aimed at reforming "the structure of U.S. government and politics."

Equally important to Sabato is the necessity to avoid within a new Constitutional Convention such hot button issues as "abortion, gay rights, the death penalty, gun control and the like…as they are best fought out on the political landscape, in the legislatures and election campaigns, until such time (if ever) that there is a national near-consensus on them," he writes.

"So also must any attempt to alter the current Bill of Rights," Sabato continues, "…since the addition or deletion of a single phrase in the first ten amendments could be deadly to ratification." With these exceptions, what are some of the changes which should be considered in the attempt to revise the Constitution?

Some of the items are familiar. A balanced budget amendment and a line item veto for the president. In improving Congress, Sabato suggests that it is necessary to mandate nonpartisan redistricting for House elections and borrowing an idea from the founding fathers says that all former Presidents and Vice Presidents should be appointed to the new office of national senator.

"Establish a six year presidential term, including a fifty-year extension referendum-that is up-or-down confirmation election which could result in an additional two years in office," Sabato asserts.

Sabato would also limit the war making powers of the president "envisaged by the War Powers Resolution of 1973." He would also replace the prohibition against non-natural born presidents or vice-presidents with a 20 year period of U.S. Citizenship.

Sabato says he would also expand the size of the Supreme Court to 12 to allow for a more representative court and eliminate lifetime tenure for all federal judges to one nonrenewable term of 15 years.

These are but a few of the 23 proposals which Sabato makes in his book, including a two year program of national service for all able bodied young Americans. No doubt some of the proposals are controversial but the purpose of the book is to begin a national dialogue for a new political agenda of change which we might consider rather than settling for an increasingly dysfunctional system.

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