Opinion | Ideas for New Amendments to the Constitution

To the Editor:

Re “Will We Ever Amend the Constitution Again?,” by Jesse Wegman (Opinion essay, Sunday Review, Aug. 8):

I’d like to thank Mr. Wegman and the contributors to the companion article, “It’s Been 50 Years Since America’s Last Real Update to Its Constitution,” for their discussions of constitutional reform issues and proposals. Large-scale reforms are urgently needed but, to be adequate to our democracy’s needs, reforms must extend beyond the proposals discussed to the basic structure of the Constitution and its institutions.

As an example of the breadth required, readers might like to know that a group of leading constitutional scholars led by Sanford Levinson has recently engaged in extensive deliberations and in June published an entirely new constitution, the text of which can be found at democracyjournal.org/magazine/61/a-new-constitution-for-the-united-states.

It is beyond doubt that achieving meaningful reforms will require holding a new constitutional convention, and common fears of such a convention on both the political left and right are misplaced.

George William Van Cleve
Denver
The writer is a dean’s visiting scholar at Georgetown University Law Center.

To the Editor:

Contrary to Jesse Wegman, constitutional stability is a virtue, not a vice. James Madison, father of the Constitution, who rejected Thomas Jefferson’s rash idea of a new constitution every 19 years, denounced mutability of the laws in Federalist 62. Among other things, he explained: “Great injury results from an unstable government. The want of confidence in the public councils damps every useful undertaking, the success and profit of which may depend on a continuance of existing arrangements.”

The supermajorities required to amend the Constitution have not fossilized the document. Indeed, every amendment advanced by seven legal scholars and writers in “It’s Been 50 Years Since America’s Last Real Update to Its Constitution” can be enacted by legislation without disturbing the Constitution, but for extinguishing a woman’s right to choose. And the latter has been uniformly defeated in popular referendums by simple majorities.

Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) that the Constitution was intended to endure for the ages and to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs, a long-headed precept that experience has vindicated.

Scapegoating the Constitution will not solve or mitigate our multiple political ills.

Bruce Fein
Washington
The writer was an associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan and is the author of “Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle for Our Constitution and Democracy.”

To the Editor:

All of the amendments suggested by your panel of scholars, except the cumbersome proposal to change the Supreme Court, are single-issue amendments. They would address some pet peeve of the writer, while doing nothing to address the grave failure of government, time and again, to act in the interests of the citizenry. Yet, in a democracy, nothing could be more critical.

One simple four-word revision to the First Amendment, however, would address an abundance of ills facing our country today, by turning the power away from moneyed interests and returning it to the people: “Money is not speech.”

Richie Feder
Philadelphia
The writer is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School and the Temple University Beasley School of Law.

To the Editor:

Jesse Wegman dismisses the Equal Rights Amendment — which bans discrimination on account of sex — as one that “will probably never be adopted because it exceeded the time limit set out in the original bill and because several states that approved it later rescinded their ratification.”

What Mr. Wegman fails to mention is the ongoing bipartisan effort in Congress to remove the time limit. A resolution is pending in the Senate, and a similar one has passed twice in the House.

There is also pending litigation brought by Virginia, Illinois and Nevada, the most recent ratifying states, arguing that the E.R.A. now satisfies all constitutional requirements and that a time limit in a joint resolution cannot stand in its way. Many other states — led by New York — filed a brief supporting this position, along with more than a hundred major corporations and a host of advocates for women’s rights.

Mr. Wegman is right that the process for amendment is difficult. But the Constitution does not impose a time limit on ratification. Nor does it provide for a state to rescind once it has ratified.

In light of the continuing efforts in Congress and the courts, the E.R.A. should hardly be dismissed out of hand. It is alive and well, and it is as important as ever.

Linda Coberly
Chicago
The writer is the chair of the ERA Coalition’s Legal Task Force.

To the Editor:

Alexandra DeSanctis proposes a constitutional amendment to protect the unborn. Such an amendment might actually have traction if it had sections that gave protections to the children and mothers both before and long after birth — protections such as guaranteed prenatal care, six months leave of absence from work after giving birth, universal prekindergarten, wages above poverty level for full-time workers, and affordable robust health care for parents and children.

It is an unfortunate truth in America that many legislators and others who want to limit a mother’s freedom to choose an abortion are not willing to provide meaningful and necessary benefits to the living.

Roy Goldman
Haverford, Pa.

To the Editor:

Fifty years ago, Pennsylvania adopted a constitutional amendment that I wrote providing its citizens with the “right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic values of the environment.” It also provides that “Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come,” and it requires the state to “conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”

A comparable amendment to the U.S. Constitution would do our nation well.

The Biden administration has proposed a comprehensive program to address climate change. But future administrations can repeal or withdraw these efforts, just as President Donald Trump repealed dozens of environmental changes made by President Barack Obama.

An environmental amendment to the Constitution would enshrine the government’s commitment to protect its citizens from environmental harm, including climate change. It would also give citizens constitutional standing to enforce those rights.

As the headline of a recent Maureen Dowd column warned, we are facing “Apocalypse Right Now.” So what better time than now to add an environmental amendment?

Franklin L. Kury
Hummelstown, Pa.
The writer is a retired state representative and senator and the author of “The Constitutional Question to Save the Planet: The People’s Right to a Healthy Environment.”

To the Editor:

Many of the amendments proposed as updates to the Constitution betray a fundamental misconception of what the document is about: The Constitution is an operating manual for our governmental architecture. The focus is on the structures of government, not on social policy. Worthy as some of these recommendations may (or may not) be, a “commitment to peace” or “rights for the unborn” have no more place in the Constitution than did the 18th Amendment, on Prohibition, which was later repealed.

Steven Berkowitz
New York

To the Editor:

Some interesting ideas, but where is the proposal to repeal the Second Amendment? It was written in the era of the blunderbuss, but the number and firepower of weapons have grown exponentially since then. It’s time for a rethinking, which could best be done by federal and state legislators absent the amendment’s constraints.

Peter Parker
Carmel, Calif.

To the Editor:

Yes, the writers of the U.S. Constitution got us off to a fine start, but there is no doubt the document can be improved. It’s odd, though, that the legal scholars asked to contribute to your story about the need for an update did not suggest that we abandon the perilous Electoral College in favor of electing our president by popular vote. Americans trying to explain this complicated, potentially antidemocratic system to citizens of other countries would have better luck explaining quantum physics.

Readers interested in a better example of a national constitution may want to take a look at Rwanda’s. One may disagree with some of it, but it shows clear decisions on many of the controversial topics we wrestle with here.

Jeff Davis
Akron, Ohio

To the Editor:

I suggest an Anti-Originalism Amendment:

“No word or phrase in this Constitution or in any amendment to it shall be construed by any federal or state court as having only the meaning it was intended or understood to have when it was ratified or adopted. The Constitution, with its amendments, shall be interpreted to reflect the changing beliefs and circumstances of an evolving society.”

Ronald W. Tochterman
Sacramento
The writer is a retired state court judge and law professor.

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