Reader Request Week 2010 #2: Rewriting the Constitution

Fletcher asks:

From the posts where you veer into politics, I know you’re a big fan of the US Constitution. So;

Early next year a previously unknown addendum to the Constitution is discovered, and the legal repercussions mean that the entire document must be rewritten, or the US of A will become a département of France. You, John Scalzi, have been selected as the person upon whom sole responsibility shall lie to recreate the guiding document of the nation.

Given this opportunity, how would you rewrite the Constitution?


Well, you know. While I understand the set-up here is fanciful, it still presents issues. First, purely on practical grounds, I would like to see France try to take possession, administrative or physical, of these here United States. I think that attempt would be messy. Second, and not necessarily to the credit of the United States, I think we’re all well aware of the country’s history of not actually paying much attention to treaties or agreements it doesn’t feel comport with its best interests. So I don’t think we have to worry much about the folks in Washington feeling obliged to hand the keys over to Sarkozy.

Third, I’m not entirely convinced that even if France could somehow take receivership, that it would want to. Why would it want ten trillion dollars in debt and a country filled with yahoos so reflexively anti-French that its Congress briefly renamed “French Fries” in its cafeterias even though the “french” in that phrase in only tangentially related to the country? I think what would happen is that the French would say “You know what? You keep that. We want you to have that,” and then go off to smoke a Gauloise and sleep with one of their seven mistresses, which as we all know they are required by law to have. Everyone would walk away thinking they got the better of the deal.

That taken care of, my response to being the person solely responsible for rewriting the Constitution would be to refuse. Not because I don’t think I could do it — I’m handy with those there words — but because having a single person dictate the contents of the Constitution of the United States is kind of missing the point of the Constitution of the United States, isn’t it? It’s not just what the Constitution says that is important; how and why it was created matter too. It was created severally and through compromise to ensure US citizens the greatest amount of participation in and involvement with, their government. Philosophically I am opposed to any single person being responsible for its content, even if that person is me.

But let’s say that whatever nebulous Powers That Be which can somehow force a revision of the Constitution of the United States say “Do it, or we give the job to Glenn Beck,” with the additional admonition that there has to be some genuine revision, not just rephrasing Jim Madison’s verbiage in a kicky modern style. All right, off the top of my head, here’s some of the things I would change.

1. I’d make the presidential term of office six years, and allow presidents to serve only one term. I’d get rid of the electoral college and have the winner of the popular vote become the President.

2. I’d decouple the House of Representatives from the states and mandate one Congressional representative for every 100,000 people, with their districts drawn as compactly as mathematically possible. Yes, this means 3,000 US Representatives. Deal with it. The Senate I would keep the same to ensure states have adequate representation in the federal government.

3. For the Supreme Court I would dictate single terms of 25 years, long enough for the serving Justices do their jobs insulated from day-to-day politics, while still ensuring turnover and a judiciary at least nominally aware of the world outside its chambers.

I’d be hard pressed to improve on the Bill of Rights, so I wouldn’t try to. As for the rest of the Amendments, at least a couple of them would be superseded by the changes I noted above, so I’d probably declutter the document a bit where appropriate but otherwise let the Amendments stand. If I were required to add in an Amendment or two, these would be the two I’d probably drop in:

a) Only non-corporate citizens of the United States are allowed to donate money or in kind services to federal election campaigns, and only to their own Representative candidates, Senatorial candidates or Presidential candidates, a sum of no more than $50 (adjusted for inflation, pegged to the 2010 dollar), excepting personal volunteer service on behalf of a candidate.

b) Voting for Federal elected positions (President, Senator, US Representative) shall be done with the instant run-off ballot.

I think those would sufficiently differentiate the Scalzi version of the Constitution from what came before, without (I hope) unduly cutting away individual rights which previously existed for US citizens. There’s always the temptation to fiddle more, but again, fundamentally, the Constitution should not be the purview of a single person, even if that person is me. Thus a final Amendment:

c) If the changes instituted by John Scalzi are not approved by two-thirds of the House, two-thirds of the Senate, and two-thirds of the State legislatures, then the Constitution shall revert back to what it was prior to him fiddling with it.

Which, frankly, would solve my philosophical problems with being told to change the Constitution in the first place.

116 Comments on “Reader Request Week 2010 #2: Rewriting the Constitution”

  1. If you are going to fix the number of people a representative can represent (at 100k), why do away with the electoral college? Recounts of 100k people are easy. Recounts of 350 Million people are hard.

  2. Kristian:

    Because the Electoral College is fundamentally about the States, and as I’m no longer tying the US Reps to the States, it doesn’t make sense for the Electoral College to persist.

  3. Also, I would say whoever wins the 100k vote gets the electoral vote, and whomever wins the state vote gets the senate vote. That would mean the President would not be able to through the whole middle the country to concentrate on California, Texas and Philly-Boston.

  4. Well, without something like the electoral college, out national elections are going to chaotic. At what level of closeness would a national recount occur? Who would administer it? The current administration (who is likely trying to get relected)? Doesn’t that move us closer to banana republic territory?

  5. so I’d probably declutter the document a bit where appropriate

    You will pry the Third Amendment out of my cold, dead fingers. And you will have to do it twice, because the first time, I will come back as an angry, pro-Third Amendment zombie. And I will be an END BOSS.

  6. Hey, I said I would leave the Bill of Rights intact. Never fear, there will be no quartering of soldiers in your home without your consent!

  7. @Kristian You seem to believe that miscounts are a fact of life. Over here on the civilized side of the Atlantic we tend to find the US problem of constant recounts rather amusing. We conduct elections on the same regular basis, yet rarely (if ever) have this problem. It’s not that hard to get election results right the first time, it’s only you Merkins who seem to have problems with it…

  8. You could even include the Bill of Rights right in the Constitution 2.0 so it’s not a bunch of amendments.

  9. Kristian @ 4:

    Given the debacle in 2000, I’m not sure we could get noticeably closer to a banana republic just by cutting out the electoral college.

    That said, as long as we’re changing to instant run-off, we should institute basic vote-counting standards that include efficient and meaningful verifiability/recountability. That’d help.

  10. Hmm I think I would add that the deficit cannot be greater than 1% of gross income unless Congress declares an Emergency and the President signs it. This emergency can last only the current fiscal year and must be renewed.

  11. I like your idea for changing the term of the President of the United States to a one term six year period. That idea was put into the Constitution of the Confederate States of America.

  12. Does this make Scalzi a Pro-Confederate?!?!

    OK…a Pro-One-Item-of-the-Confederate-Constitution. Same thing.

    Actually, I think I like this constitution, and if I was a member of a legislature, I’d vote for it.

    I particularly like going to an IRV system, and limiting campaign contributions to $50 in 2010 money.

    I’d also remove the 18th and 21st amendments. Because leaving them in a fresh document would seem silly to me.

  13. I think about the only tweak I’d do would be your ban on corporate finance. I actually like the electoral college, only if to mandate that someone campaigns in smaller states.

  14. Limiting the Presidential term to one six year term is good, but you’d also have to limit the terms of members of Congress or else the President is a lame duck from day one.

    I agree with the one 25 year term limit for the Supreme Court. I think it’s the perfect length of time (and how many justices in history served more than 25 years on the Court? Not many).

  15. Given mathematical error, i’d add that the runoff has to also have at least a 1% difference in votes. This way the difference is more than the margin of error. People don’t get it that if the spread is less than the error then no one “won”, the popular vote or otherwise.

    Runoffs would also stop recounts and “ooh look we just found a few thousand votes in a van golly they are all for my candidate too!” which has happened a few times in the past decade (WA, WI, etc)

    However I am not sure about point a. the problem is, and the reason the supreme court overturned that portion of the law, is that you cannot seperate a “media” company from any other corporate entity. To say corporate entities cannot donate “in kind” service like commericals, is to say FOX can blast away at democrat candidates, but your non profit promoting gay rights cannot blast back. In the end I think total freedom is better, since people always find ways around regulation.

  16. Sorry I was serious I think I was supposed to be snarky.

    I think we need to get rid of the amendment that stops the government from quartering troops in your home. Imagine the cost savings if we didn’t need to keep up military bases! Plus Republicans could prove their patriotism by housing a soldier.

  17. Not going to add a right to privacy into the Bill of Rights? Or an equal rights amendment? Or clarify whether the second amendment pertains to individuals arming for self-defense, vs. arming themselves as part of a militia?

    As for the math of allocating Congress seats: Ouch! We’ve talked about it out here in California, and the problem is that, however you do it, you have to start with some assumptions. Someone has to make those assumptions. Are they elected or chosen, and if they are chosen, who does the choosing? However you do it, someone ends up choosing who you get to vote for by putting you in a district. Do you want to influence who they are, or not? It’s a good question to consider.

    Also, it’s probably worth considering the effect of Dunbar number theory on the size of the Congress. With 3000 members, there’s no way they’ll all know each other. So what you’ll see is the emergence of (s)elected middle-manager congressmen–call them regional whips–who organize separate blocks of their party to do their work, probably under supervision of the party leaders. I suspect this would be more like the British parliamentary system, and your local congresscritter would become the federal government’s representative to you, rather than your representative to the government. Said Critter would have to toe the party line pretty closely, just to keep the funding rolling in.

  18. I love the idea of a runoff. I hate the current primary system.

    But John, can you please rewrite the California constitution? That’s in far more need of a rewrite than the federal constitution.

  19. I like #2, but I’d modify it to decouple it from geography completely. My version would have anyone that got X “endorsements” from voting age citizens become Representatives. These endorsements could be given and taken away at any time (tracked by the intarwebs or something). Only one endorsement per voter. If a Rep has fewer endorsements than needed by close of business Friday, he or she goes home.

    No more silly season every two years, everyone can get a representative in Congress, and it might open up the two party system some.

  20. No term limits on the House or Senate? That should be the new first amendment (as all the rest would no longer really be amendments if you rewrote the constitution).

  21. I’ve thought of the need to expand the House of Representatives, but 3,000 is just too unwieldy. 1,000 is probably the upper limit to where you could actually function. Much beyond that and the Congressmen are more like an audience, watching and voting on the performances of a few leaders.

  22. 1 six year term for the president… Been reading the constitution of the Confederate States of America again?

    Actually I approve of the idea.

  23. I see a loop hole in the donation cap. “excepting personal volunteer service on behalf of a candidate.”
    Having seen this in action – A corporation can effectively pay for volunteers to your campaign. I (corporation abc) hire a very nice vice president who happens to have a great deal of campaign management experience. I allow him to donate his work time, while being paid by me. I don’t even have to make it a formal thing, I just turn a blind eye to the fact that he never really does much for me, but seems to spend 40 plus hours a week at the campaign headquarters of my favorite candidate.

    Corporations have access to advertising execs, graphic designers, telephone centers, paper, fax machines, computers, on an on. And naturally their employees have access to them. If they on occasion use them for campaigns, I am none the wiser.

    Any corporation could effectively hide a very large contribution this way.

  24. matt @ 20:

    That’s an interesting thought, but I’d skip the ongoing tracking and insta-lose-your-job bit. While reps should in general dance with them what brung ’em, I think it would be unwise to have it that close-coupled. It would bias the system against those reps willing to occasionally buck public opinion.

    At least stick in a time delay, such that their approval rating would not just have to fall below x%, but stay down there for a few weeks or months.

  25. Allow me to be a gadfly and pick at one statement: It was created severally and through compromise to ensure US citizens the greatest amount of participation in and involvement with, their government.

    Really? Because Constitution 1.0 (before amendments — we’re currently on version 1.27) contains a whole bunch of measures meant to limit the amount of direct democracy we have: senators appointed by state legislatures, no right of suffrage, the 3/5ths compromise, and of course the infamous Electoral College. The point of these measures is to insulate the gov’t from direct democracy, and allow the creation of a privileged political class that can mediate the demands of the rabble.

    I’m not knocking it, but one should be realistic about the original intent.

  26. Writing from the UK: why 6 years (and not, say, 8 or 4)? And what, exactly is the problem with multi-turn presidents? Seems like (until recently) it worked out OK.

    The problem with single term presidents, it seems to me is, any way you slice it, after the mid-term (whenever that is), he’s a dead/lame duck, the jockeying will start for the next one, and the incumbent will start trying to make peace in the middle east

  27. Keep the Senate as-is now or as-is originally? I sometimes think we’d be better off returning Senators to being nominated by state legislatures.

  28. Hmm. No line / item / amendment veto? No requirement that each bill have only either one subject or not allow amendments that do not conform to the subject of the bill?

    One of those could stop this cycle of “you voted that kittens are cuter than puppies” attack ads when the kitten/puppies amendment was attached to something important.

  29. I think the six-year presidential term is good, but I’d
    want to allow for subsequent non-consecutive re-election.

    For those of you hepped on term limits: We have them in California. I voted for them. I wish we didn’t, and I think I made a mistake. Limiting legislators’ terms IMO makes things worse, because nobody ever has any incentive to think about the long term. They’re never there long enough to make a difference before they’re termed out.

  30. Kevin @ 27:

    Under the current system, if there’s a first-term President, the jockeying for the office includes the person in the office. This was less of a deal when the jockeying wasn’t so much of a thing, but it’s turned into a full-time-plus job. I’d rather the current president kept their mind on presidenting.

    (Of course, there’d still be campaign appearances on behalf of the Prez’ party’s candidate, etc. Not the same, though.)

  31. My main argument for retaining the four-year presidency over a six-year term is that way, we have a staggered session of Congress. (2 years for House, 4 for President, 6 for Senate) This way, the power re-shifts every two years. If you’re going to have a six-year President, drop Senators to four years.

  32. Though I frequently disagree with some of your political stances, I could defintely get onboard with the changes you’ve proposed. With one addition, as referenced by others, of term limiting Representatives and Senators. I’d suggest 12 years total, in each house.

    Though at one representative per 100,000 citizens it would be much easier for a community to know, and keep hold of, their elected official. And I actually think that greatly enlarging the House makes graft much less likely. Well done.

    One more addition for your consideration. Make the Vice President stand for independent election and make him/her a full voting member of the Senate. Giving the VP a full fledged Senator (nationally elected) gives the position some real power (however modest in comparison to the Presidency), keeps the Heir in Chief fully within the political loop, and allows voters to split the baby if they aren’t sure they’re doing the right thing in voting for a President.

    And a final proposal for your consideration. Allow for national referendums (Propositions) on certain issues. I’d include political pay raises and perks to be within the category requiring direct voter approval.

  33. John,

    given your choice to make all presidents ‘lame ducks’ and transform justices to more limited servants*, would you do something similar for senators and congressfolk?

    (* – idle thought: what is the longest a supreme court justice has served?)

  34. Pick a readability standard and require that any law (including tax codes and such) must meet a certain readability, something akin to a Flesch Reading ease of about a 55 or better.

    I think the corporate donations thing should be more complex than that. As it stands, a local resturaunt which donated a couple of hundred dollars of takeout to a political campaign office the week before elections would be in trouble.

    Allow tax exempt churches, but if they want to engage i politics they lose exemption and are treated like corporate citizens.

  35. I like what you’ve proposed, but I wonder if some clarification on the 2nd ammendment wouldn’t be nice. The reference to a well regulated militia clouds the matter of personal ownership of firearms, I think, and is probably an outdated concept.
    Honestly, it’s been quite a while since I read the thing. Kicky modern style aside, are there other places where archaic language might be tightened up to make the intent of the document a bit more clear?

  36. Oh my. Having just helped pay for Colman v. Franken, the idea of a popular election for president leaves me cold. As do all of the “better” kinds of voting; all of them are capable of being manipulated, sometimes to ends their advocates do not want. Math is your friend, folks, and your enemies’ weapon. I’d keep the electoral college, with whomever gets more than 50% getting the “Senate Electors” (no one, they don’t vote this time) from a state, and the same for each “House Elector”.

    The House’s Representatives, yes, 100,000 sounds good. But they remain from a state (and there’s another for the excess, so someone gets into office with, say, 79,000 or 8) and they are NOT elected; they are selected by petition. Go out and gather 100,000 signatures, you’re in. Don’t like what your rep is doing, remove your signature from their petition, add it so someone else’s if you want. If a representative’s signature count falls below 100,000 they’re out of office. Elections, as such, are not needed at all, just signature verifiers and counters.

    The Petitioners of X have a mini-election for House Elector (who cannot be X) who must be a fellow petitioner of X, and who, with eir fellow Electors, selects (by secret majority ballot) the President, and then (by secret majority ballot) a Vice-President to serve with that President. If the Electors so choose, they may select the Vice President first.

    Senators are selected by whatever scheme their State wants (I’d prefer that this not be election, but if they want that … maybe other States (not the Feds) should be able to object to … no.) Experiments can be good.

    Supreme Court Justices … I’d require (this doesn’t take anything but a President deciding to do this) that nominees have served at least five years as a prosecutor, and at least five years as a criminal defense lawyer, and at least five years as a State judge. I’d prefer judges know all three sides of the sword. The problem with fixed terms is that people will scheme for when they know X will be leaving the Court (not that they don’t do this anyway) and I want to interfere with their schemes.

    I understand the attractiveness of IRV and its buddies, but I’ve become convinced that they will not work in practice. People have a hard enough time managing to vote for one of six. I urge those of you who think this is a good scheme to be an election judge for a few elections.

    “else’s” is incorrect?

  37. Htom at 39:

    For Supreme Court Justices, you’ve forgotten a much broader branch of the law, civil law. You’d get great criminal law judges under your curriculum, but they would be so great at resolving intricate contract, real estate, divorce, personal injury, estates, and other complex civil issues.

  38. Excuse me, typo. “would not be” is the correct context of the last sentence of the foregoing.

  39. I’d go further in a couple of areas to resolve some of the basic problems we have these days.

    1. I’d get in in there someplace that lobbying is now and forever shall be illegal.

    2. Corporations are NOT allowed to play in govenment what so ever. Our govenment is currently very clear for the corporations by the corporations and I for one am sick of it.

    3. Congressmen need to hold public forums on their votes. They must somehow be accountable to vote the way that the people they represent would want them to vote. I highly doubt if the American public had been made fully aware of what the DMCA was going to do to their rights it would have been popularly supported. I support reasonable copyrights and IP owenership but the current state of things is insane.

    4. We need one more item in the Bill of Rights related to copyrights, FAIRUSE needs to be clearly spelled out once and for all.

  40. stevem at 40 — I did think of that, but the list of legal areas is so long. I was kind of hoping that the spell as a judge would give some taste of those other areas. I see the primary duty of the judiciary as being to be a “fair judge” between the individual and The State, hence my choices. A great complaint, though, about the scheme. You’re right, there’s just not enough time to do it all. Perhaps changing to “at least five years as a judge in a non-criminal court”?

  41. How about some penalties for violating the constitution, say it’s a felony, and $50,000 fine for each violation by a member of congress/president/or any other official, (Bureaucrat or elected)? And make it $10,000/violation by an ordinary citizen. After a man or woman has served his or her term in jail, or probation, they should be allowed to vote again, its not like there is much clamoring for this one, but you take your votes where you can get them. “I AM the representative from the Federal Pen!” And it gives ex-cons a measure of interest in the future.

    Leave the electoral college alone, it give Americans the illusion of a massive majority when the popular sentiment is otherwise.

    @TenFingers, I resent your implying that Americans need/use Merkins. They are only used by relatively hairless people, and not for the intended purpose, but to VIOLATE the intended usage. (The violation is sexier than following the law.) Besides if you don’t have pubic hair, what HAVE you got?

    There are certainly more changes that can be imagined, too. Do away with income tax witholding, make people pay all at once, that would kill the income tax pretty well stone dead.

    Make the feds use gold and silver coinage. Oops we already tried that. (nevermind…)

  42. I see the primary duty of the judiciary as being to be a “fair judge” between the individual and The State, hence my choices.

    But your choices don’t make any sense. Let’s set aside the fact that one of the primary duties of the judiciary is also to be a “fair judge” between individuals – or, if you like, between individuals and elite moneyed interests – outside of criminal law. A minimum of five years on one side and the other doesn’t guarantee, or even really suggest, a greater propensity for “fairness”. Somebody who spent five years as a PD and then quit because she got sick of defending lying bastards and then spend 20 years as a fire-and-brimstone prosecutor? Well, sure, she’s got the experience, but I’m not sure that’s quite what you had in mind.

    Judicial experience is a good thing, particularly as it builds a record. And I don’t mean a record of “how does this judge feel about Roe v. Wade,” but a record of whether the judge tries to follow the law, makes a careful record of his decisions, and how he treats people in his courtroom.

  43. We should get rid of the Senate. Its a pointless entity that was created to give disproportionate power to a minority of citizens that otherwise threatened to blow up the entire US Constitution. Its modern purpose is almost solely to direct pork barrel projects to areas with disproportionately low population, ensuring their inefficiency, and to enforce a judicial veto of basically everything that comes before it if even one senator opposes.

    Its outlived its purpose. Seriously- there are about as many good arguments for a Senate as there are for a House of Lords.

  44. @mythago (comment 5) has already stimulated discussion of my favorite Amendment – the Third – so let’s think different.

    John: There has to be a better way to get a Letter of Marque and Reprisal than going through Congress. Discuss.

  45. I regret to inform you that there is no Third Amendment jurisprudence. None. We tried to create a Third Amendment moot court problem in law school – one of those typical could-go-any-way issues, say the President declares war but it’s not clear whether Congress properly ratified it, and then National Guardsmen temporarily take over an unoccupied private home for a tactical staging area. Then, of course, we had to look at the available case law and rulings on the problem that our moot courtlings would be relying on. There ain’t none. It was most depressing.

  46. OMG, 3,000 people? Are you insane? Having more reps is not good. Possibly having fewer could be good too. And six years is probably not long enough. How can you get anything done? I just wish they didn’t have to run every four years. It is kind of a distraction. You should have changed the reps running too. Two years is too short.

    Yeah, the Electoral College has run its course. On with the popular vote. I wonder what this country would be like right now if we declared the winner by the popular vote, say back in 2000?

  47. Well, no. You don’t keep all of that. I’d like Martha’s Vineyard please, and the Grand Canyon.
    And could we trade you a small, vindictive madman for a tall eloquent statesman?

    We (les français …) went for direct popular election of the president in 1965. It hasn’t stopped the slow slide to the sclerotic two party system which we have today.
    And the American system hasn’t stopped Obama’s election nor the passage of Health Care reform.

    As in any system of human organization, you get mostly parasites which power will corrupt. Exceptional individuals will shine through, though, whatever the – roughly democratic – protocol.

    That said, I’d see why you’d want to adapt your more than bicentennial system. Our own republic is only 52 years old, and it could do with a strong spring cleaning.

  48. It’s not that hard to get election results right the first time, it’s only you Merkins who seem to have problems with it…

    Given that the European history of “getting the election results right the first time” includes “Hm, Adolf Hitler appears to be head of the largest party in the Reichstag” I wouldn’t be quite so snotty about it, thanks.

  49. Frankly, I twitch at the thought of reducing the ‘district’ for the House to 100,000 people, and twitch even harder at any of the ‘petition’ representation schemes. To put it bluntly, I think that gives far too much power to tiny lunatic fringes with pet causes; Israel is my favorite nasty example, but I can see this happening anywhere there’s a rough parity of power blocs and the balance can be tipped by [insert small ideological party here]. I really, really like electoral systems that force a candidate to appeal to a relatively broad constituency to get elected. It may mean there’s a subset of people who feel disenfranchised, but I’d far rather have that then give tiny groups that kind of power.

    I do, however, agree wholeheartedly with some form of regularization of district boundaries; gerrymandering is way out of hand.

  50. Most (not all) of the judges I’ve known have had no experience in criminal defense prior to their becoming judges (I’ll add that I know one who, upon retiring from the bench, became a criminal defense lawyer!) I was trying to get all three sides, that’s all.

    Third Amendment. I know of (by another’s story) one time when it was invoked (if that’s the correct verb.) His daughter was transferred for training to a base in her parent’s home town, found that due to some SNAFU she had no housing (IIRC, she was assigned housing, but it had burned down or something.) It was suggested to her that she spend the three months with her parents by her new C.O. Once Dad found out about this, he called the C.O., chatted briefly, and pointed out the Third. “Oh. Yes. That would … there must be some way that we can rent her an apartment for three months.” Next day, she had an apartment off-base, walk-to-work distance rather than 30 mile drive. Didn’t generate a lawsuit, though.

  51. 200% income tax for all elected officials. Let them pay if they want the office.

    Death penalty for corruption in public office.

    And my grandfather’s idea of shooting and eating politicians, if you can get them clean enough, deserves some consideration.

    On a slightly more serious note, why not a position for former presidents? They tend to do a lot of second tier ceremonial stuff any way, why not make it official?

  52. Haplo Peart @42, your first point would mean that you (and I) could no longer write or call our representative or president. If you wanted to change that to say you can’t pay somebody else to lobby for you, I might get behind that.

  53. The Electoral College amplifies the result out of the margin of error, and means that rural interests get a chance of being represented— important if you want to eat. Anyway.

    Two ideas I’ve heard recently that have merit— the first is get the legislators out of Washington. Make ’em spend at least six months of every year in their home district— preferably all, but we know that teleconferencing isn’t quite where it needs to be yet. The advantage? It’s harder for the lobbyists, because they don’t have this huge ready-made pool of people, and the people in the district have easier access too.

    The other is don’t institute term limits; raise the minimum age. Back when the Constitution was written, a man in his fifties was an elder statesman, and likely to drop off within ten years. Right now, however, we’ve got at least one rep who is on his twenty-third term— that’s over forty years, folks. A bit much. I understand the argument of people looking to the future, but in cases like that it seems like looking to the future rut. So up the minimum age so that the legislators have to have had some other experience before becoming politicians. (I can dream, right?)

  54. The other is don’t institute term limits; raise the minimum age.

    Yes, because we totally need to discourage young people from being involved in the political system even more than we already do. “Some other experience” can include such non-legislative-related experience as, oh, acting. Or exterminating bugs. Or running eBay. I dunno about you, but I think I’d be happier with a thirty-year-old who’s been involved in politics since he was a teenager putting out chairs for the City Council meeting. If you want to limit terms, what you’re thinking of is an age ceiling.

    htom @54, you just made my day.

  55. loximuthal @56 Yes, its corporate lobbying, even organizational lobbying that I have an issue with. I think a single citizen’s opinion should carry a lot more weight than a large body. I am sick of Disney, Universal, et al getting more of a hearing by my representatives than I do. I am sick of laws that don’t benefit the American people and instead benefit the corporations, which are more and more controlled by non-American interests and people.

    If 20 People call or write my senator and say they don’t want some new copyright law passed and 10 people call or write and say they do he/she should vote against that law. Period.

  56. An amendment to condemn to death the President upon election, sentence to be suspended for the full term of his or her presidency.

    At the end of the term, concurrent with the election of the new president, the electors could also decide (by 2/3 majority) whether to pardon the former president, or whether to go ahead with the execution.

    (From an idea in an old novel by De Camp, I think)

  57. I would add term limits for the Senate and House. Three terms of the Senate and 5 for the house.

    We really need more turnover. I hate the way some people are elected over and over again, and become impossible to “dethrone” in their postition of incumbent.

  58. Kristian@4:

    Well, without something like the electoral college, out national elections are going to chaotic. At what level of closeness would a national recount occur? Who would administer it? The current administration (who is likely trying to get relected)? Doesn’t that move us closer to banana republic territory?

    India manages just fine and they have a few more people than we do. They even one-up us, with a fully electronic voting system that isn’t managed by Diebold. It’s black box, prints receipts and is not connected to the Internet. But then, their entire nation is our IT department, so they have a few brains working on this.

    As to what I’d add: Amendments for Universal Health care, pension, and marriage equality.

    Everybody gets a living wage (full time work week=32 hrs) and the ability to retire, can see a doctor when they want (thus ensuring they actually reach retirement age, which is now 50) and marry whomever they want.

  59. One extra-picky point: That last caveat should be three-quarters of the states… just like is necessary to amend the bloody thing in the first place. (That’s why the ERA didn’t become an amendment… but that we’re arguably better off with the statutory gap-fillers, because the ERA was not self-executing and only would have resulted in lots of lawsuits under § 1983, which have a tougher standard of proof — and more procedural hurdles — than gender-discrimination statutes.)

    And one modest proposal:

    Rather than term limits, or killing the President upon leaving office (cf. de Camp’s The Unbeheaded King, per 60… which was intended as a political satire, however unsuccessful it turned out), I propose that eligibility for elective federal office be limited to those who will be 55 years old or less on the first day of the term of office. That way, they have to live with the consequences of their actions… and they get to watch their children, probably grandchildren, and possibly great-grandchildren do so. Maybe there’s an argument for having revered-elder advisors, but a couple thousand years of history have demonstrated that revered elders tend to make extremely short-sighted decisions.

    < sarcasm/homage > And a South American dictator of my acquaintance ensures me that elderly politicians are simply divine when carefully rendered down and made into votive candles… </ sarcasm/homage >

  60. Does your 3.a. mean that a rich person who wants to throw his own money into a campaign will have an unstoppable advantage?

    You said you wouldn’t fiddle with the BoR, but a clause such as the following might be helpful:

    “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, press, assembly, etc. No, really. NO law. No exceptions. No time, place and manner restrictions. No means no.

    And that goes for the other ones, too. No searches without warrants. That means no searches incident to arrest, no blowing blood-alcohol meters without a warrant, no self-incriminating “on pain of losing your drivers license if you refuse” requirements to do stuff.

    Seriously, the words are simple. Use them.”

  61. Simple solution to the gerrymandering problem, from Prof. Lani Guinier: if a state is entitled to N representatives, instead of dividing it into N districts, just let every resident cast N votes in each congressional election, and give seats in Congress to the folks with the top N vote totals. We don’t even need to amend the Constitution to permit this.

  62. Rather than term limits, make it a requirement of federal elected office that a person holding an elected office — any elected office — is not eligible for any federal elected office until the conclusion of the term of their successor in that office. Example: Rob is currently official1, wants to be official2. When Rob’s term is up, Dan takes office. When Dan’s term is up, Rob can run for office2 — which might be office1 — but no one gets to make a career out of holding consecutive elective office(s). They have to get out of the “Bubble Of In” and work with the rest of us.

    My thinking is that someone who has gone from City Council to Mayor to State Legislature to Governor to House to Senate would have much less isolation from the real world than someone who’d held a half-dozen other jobs (or the same job a half-dozen times) in between those jobs as lawmaker.

    Oh, and anyone who proposes elected folk (or their families or staff) should be “excluded” from laws, rules, regulations for the rest of us should be “excluded” from ever holding any office.

  63. Bill @64: so you want to abolish defamation law and the criminalizing of assault?

  64. Mythago@67 — Defamation is amply covered by state law and by civil suits. But if pressed, I’d give it up to protect the rest. Name calling should not be a federal, criminal offense. In general, bad speech should be countered with good speech.

    I don’t understand how what I said would prevent the criminalizing of assault (but I don’t see a federal enumerated power to criminalize it; again, state laws should cover it.)

  65. The current system of electing the president ensures that the candidates do not reach out to all of the states. Presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided “battleground” states. New Hampshire was the only small state with 4 or less electoral votes. In 2008, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their campaign events and ad money in just six states, and 98% in just 15 states. Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). In 2004, candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states; over 80% in nine states; and over 99% of their money in 16 states, and candidates concentrated over two-thirds of their money and campaign visits in five states and over 99% of their money in 16 states.
    Two-thirds of the states and people have been merely spectators to the presidential elections.

    Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the state-by-state winner-take-all rule enacted by 48 states, under which all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

  66. Without a rewrite of the Constitution, the National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes–that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The Constitution gives every state the power to allocate its electoral votes for president, as well as to change state law on how those votes are awarded.

    The bill is currently endorsed by over 1,707 state legislators (in 48 states) who have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado– 68%, Iowa –75%, Michigan– 73%, Missouri– 70%, New Hampshire– 69%, Nevada– 72%, New Mexico– 76%, North Carolina– 74%, Ohio– 70%, Pennsylvania — 78%, Virginia — 74%, and Wisconsin — 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Alaska – 70%, DC – 76%, Delaware –75%, Maine — 77%, Nebraska — 74%, New Hampshire –69%, Nevada — 72%, New Mexico — 76%, Rhode Island — 74%, and Vermont — 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas –80%, Kentucky — 80%, Mississippi –77%, Missouri — 70%, North Carolina — 74%, and Virginia — 74%; and in other states polled: California — 70%, Connecticut — 74% , Massachusetts — 73%, Minnesota – 75%, New York — 79%, Washington — 77%, and West Virginia- 81%.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 29 state legislative chambers, in 19 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oregon, and both houses in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington. These five states possess 61 electoral votes — 23% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


  67. The current state-by-state winner-take-all system has been a constant source of “chaos, litigation and confusion.” Under the current system, there are 51 separate opportunities for recounts in every presidential election. Recounts would be far less likely under a National Popular Vote system than under the current system. In the United States’ 56 total presidential elections , there have been 5 litigated state counts which were totally unnecessary and an artificial crisis created by the current state-by-state winner-take-all system.

    Based on history, a national popular vote would reduce the probability of a recount from five instances in 56 presidential elections to one instance in 332 elections (that is, once in 1,328 years). In fact, the reduction would be even greater because a close result is less likely to occur as the size of the jurisdiction increases. Indeed, only two of the 23 recounts among the 7,645 statewide elections in the 26-year period from 1980 through 2006 were in big states.

    A single national pool of votes is the way to drastically reduce the likelihood of recounts and eliminate the artificial crises produced by the current system.

  68. Seth at 65: You are brilliant. One potential logistical problem. It may be hard for a representative to know who his or her constituency is, when everyone in the state is a voter for his or her position.

  69. Bill @68, the First Amendment (among others) has been ‘incorporated’ into the states by means of the Fourteenth Amendment. In other words, it’s kind of pointless for you to have a theoretical right of free speech as an American if the state you live in bans free speech.

    Defamation and assault go a little beyond ‘name calling’. Unless you really want free speech rights to protect “Your money or your life”.

  70. Okay all you constitutional thinkers–how do we solve the core problem with our current structure? Long term vision suffers for short term re-election prospects? Longer terms across the board for all elected officials?

    I find it interesting that no one suggests we move to a parlimentary structure as in the UK. Whoever controls the legislature (Commons) controls the government for up to five years. When we parted ways from England they were a loosely constitutional monarchy. Looks to me like they have evolved a reasonable structure the past few centuries, while we have stuck to the one we came up with upon parting ways.

    Look back and count how many times we have had unified national goverment versus divided national government. I for one, think we suffer now the evils of short term vision and divided government far too much. If we are re-writing the constitution, ditch the separation of powers and move to the modern parlimentary approach with, say, eight years before a current government must call elections. You would get unified government with the prospect for reasonably long-term vision.

  71. toto — while there have been some huge popular majorities, there have also been some so small as to be effectively zero. Nixon-Kennedy was, IIRC, 0.91 votes per precinct. Change the vote totals in each precinct by one, you have a different president. In this scheme there will be perpetual recounts.

    Gary — we see the on-going political class as the problem, not the solution. We’re trying to get the public, even if it wants to vote themselves bread and circuses, to be unable to do so.

  72. @Gary Willis – re: Short term election vision. Maybe we can limit the ability to campaign to just the two weeks prior to the election? I think two weeks is enough time to make up your mind on issues and people and it’s short enough you don’t get sick of the BS.

    As for moving to the UK’s parlimentary structure, I have to tell you it goes against my gut instinct. Like “How dare you!” level of gut instinct. I think the separation of powers is one of those “sacred” things, to me at least. Also, the idea that government gets to call for elections, rather than having then set, is scary.

    My question to the brilliant thinkers is: How do we do away with political parties? I blame them for a lot of this mess.

  73. Xana @ 76:

    My question to the brilliant thinkers is: How do we do away with political parties? I blame them for a lot of this mess.

    I don’t have a problem with political parties per se. I think the problem is that the current setup naturally tends toward only two major ones. I understand that tendency is encouraged in various ways with a strong spirit of bipartisanship that’s hard to imagine in other issues.

    Limiting the national discussion to only two general perspectives — and often even fewer than that — does us all a huge disservice.

    There are ways to loosen the hold of the two major parties, but they’re not likely to cooperate with implementing any such changes.

  74. Regarding political parties – I think it would help a lot if the parties are not listed on the ballots. That way people might not vote for people they know nothing about solely based on political party (like the local offices). They might look more into what people stand for. Or skip voting for race altogether if they are truly uninformed.

  75. Xana @76
    I understand the gut reaction you feel over separation of powers. In our current structure I do like the separation of powers. Yet, the cynic in me see our voters as thinking, “hmm, if I keep the government divided they won’t get anything done, which means they can’t gore my ox.” Our keeping the executive separate from the legislative function allows that thinking to prevail and decide election after election after election for much of my half-century plus.

    What about a hybrid? Judges are appointed by the executive, but must stand for re-affirmation by the voters every so often, say, every five years. Adopt the parlimentary approach for the legislative and executive functions. Separating the judicial from the other two major functions of government seems to me the power we truly need to keep separate.

    I type all this because I really would like to see national government work well for our collective benefit. I served three years once as an elected local school board trustee. Our elections to the school board were non-partisan and we often voted 7-0 during my term. I can remember fewer than five 4-3 votes on local school policy. I thought our government worked well locally. And I watch our national government and stoically stave off despair most of the time at their inability to do much good at all for us as citizens of our nation.

    One above suggestion in this thread would be good I think–if our national government actually worked well. Let the national legislature only meet half a year every third year or so. Texas’s legislature meets five months every other year. We like having our legislators home more than they are in Austin.

  76. Mythago @ 73. Most states include a Free Speech clause in their own constitutions — which states wouldn’t also protect my rights? (and those that don’t, shold get one)

    Plus, you don’t need a constitutional amendment/BoR to protect it — the right is a “natural” right that the constitution only recognizes, but does not grant. Likewise, the states don’t grant it — it is already there (“God-Given”, for lack of a better word). The states and the federal govt should protect it regardless of whether it is mentioned in the BoR — see the spirit and letter of the 9th Amendment.

    “Defamation” is someone saying bad things about you. In Canada, you have to be very careful about “defaming” someone’s religion, else the govt crawls up your rear (unless, of course, the religion in question is mainstream Christianity. . .). Free speech has suffered greatly there in the last decade. The important value of “Free Speech” has suffered greatly at the cost of fear of defamation. Free Speech should trump it.

    And again, WTF does “assault” have to do with anything I’ve mentioned? You’ve brought it up twice now.

    It’s illegal in every state — take away the Federal Constitution and it’s still illegal everywhere. Congress has no enumerated power to criminalize it. The Tenth Amendment should mean something too.

  77. Term limits have been a disaster for California. They have caused the state assembly to go through a body of partisan hacks in the pockets of lobbyists to a body of inexperienced partisan hacks in the pockets of lobbyists. For a legislative body, it is a horrible idea.

  78. These comments taken as a whole consititute the single best argument for not letting any one person rewrite the Constitution.

  79. While thoase are pretty good, I have a couple o’ favorites. The Environmental amendment: All outflow pipes shall be upstream of intake pipes for all businesses, cities, and individuals who use waterways in the USA. All effluent stacks shall vent through the CEO’s and upper management offices. All boards of directors whose companies vent to the outdoors shall meet in chambers between the outflow and the out of doors. All waste created in a state shall be kept in that state, especially to include nuclear and industrial waste.

    And then there is the Equal Rights Amendment: In the laws in the US and its states, all renderings of “he” shall be understood to include “she” unless biologically impossible.

  80. Regarding parliamentary systems, my sense, not that I’m an expert, is that when a parliamentary country has a reasonably sane party in the majority, the government becomes very efficient at going full-speed-ahead with its agenda (our Founding Fathers considered this a decidedly mixed blessing), but when the parliament is so divided that nutsoburgers control the swing votes (cf. Israel), you either have paralysis or you have nutsoburgers getting power out of proportion to their numbers.

    The American constitution, by contrast, seems to give us a two-party system where the government is always limping along (since the President, even if he can’t pass new laws, controls the administrative apparatus of the state), and sometimes can sort of trot (when the President and Congress are cooperating), but has too many veto points for anyone to go full-speed-ahead with anything.

    I can’t decide whether, on these grounds, I like the American system better or worse.

    I do like the parliamentary-system rule of “if the government can’t pass a budget then call new elections”. Maybe some US state governments should switch to a parliamentary system….

  81. my response to being the person solely responsible for rewriting the Constitution would be to refuse

    But you must, Mister J. I’m obnoxious and disliked, you know that’s so.

  82. I’ve thought about what I would do if I were to rewrite the Constitution as well, and there’s a couple of points I don’t like.

    3000 congressmen is rather difficult to deal with. I would instead propose that the number of seats be no less than the cube root of the population as determined by the census. This gives us 675 reps, scales it to population, and is pretty easy to do.

    Mandating IRV. Let me put it this way: I’m an active member of the online voting system community, and there’s one thing we pretty much agree upon. IRV is bad, up there with Plurality and Antiplurality. I know you didn’t give an argument for it, but you probably (apologies for speculating in regards to your mind) wanted either the anti-spoiler property or the anti-runoff property. If it’s the first, then let it be known that IRV fails and has a spoiler whenever there are three solid candidates, as opposed to most Plurality elections which require just two plus a weak one. If it’s the second, then it should be known that IRV creates false majorities. Finally, there are far better systems than either IRV or Plurality. While there is no full agreement among the voting system community as to the best, it is generally agreed that Approval (vote for as many as you want) fixes all major problems with Plurality for almost no cost. A step up from that would be Score voting (see my website for details) which is the voting system used by nearly everywhere on the internet; it has a large contingent of supporters and is backed up by simulation testing.

  83. Range/Score voting has a property I like that’s rarely mentioned, perhaps because it doesn’t have a fancy name. Voters (call them “naive voters” can treat it like “normal” voting, voting (say) 9 for the desired candidate, and 0 or blank for all of the others, and this helps their desired candidate. Even so, it would seem to me to be much harder to deal with in the polling place. Automated totalers would help, but there are many more marks to be made by the voters; five or ten times as many, for typical elections in our precinct. Voting will take much longer, time to stand in line will be longer, spoiled ballots more frequent.

  84. Bill @81 – you answered your question with “most states”. And the fact that much of the BoR has already been held to apply to the states – because, again, if it’s a felony in your state to say “I think the governor is an ass,” then how exactly do you have a right to free speech? Yes, yes, it’s a natural right and the states should protect it. So what?

    “Defamation” is a legal term meaning libel or slander. If you are able to sue somebody for defamation in court, guess what? Court = the judicial branch of the government = coercive power of government to enforce your rights.

    WTF I mean by “assault” is of the first part of the phrase “assault and battery”. In the US, it refers to the threat, not the actual violence. If I threaten to whack you with a baseball bat, that’s assault. If I actually whack you, that’s battery (hence the phrase, assault and battery). No-limits free speech means death threats are perfectly legal, as long as you don’t actually carry them out.

    You’re talking in circles; you say that free speech should be absolute, then say it isn’t really because we have laws, real and “natural”. I guess what you’re really trying to get at is that you’re afraid of overreaching laws about hate speech, so why not just say that instead of painting yourself into a rhetorical corner.

  85. @88
    The funny thing is, Score is actually faster than you’d think. It manages to be faster than both ranking (Eg, IRV) or Approval. I admit, if someone already knows who he or she wants to vote for, then they can vote faster on Plurality/Approval. However, if someone hasn’t made up their mind, then I think the speed is comparable to even Plurality. Especially given that you don’t have to worry about which candidates have a chance.

    Also, experimentally, range reduces spoiled ballots. If someone overvotes in Plurality, the whole vote is thrown out. If someone messes up a score ballot, then only the bad parts need to be removed. It’s the same reason that Approval has lower spoiling than Plurality; no more overvotes to toss out.

    The property you mention is called bullet voting. Some advocates are concerned about the possibility that Score or Approval lead to many bullet votes. On the other hand, I think it’s fine, since if they only have one person they support, then that’s fine, and the ballot is OK.

    If you’d like some self demonstrations as to the speed of Score, check out this page, which contains some counterexamples to psychometric criticisms.

  86. Beneficial changes to the Constitution:

    1) Henceforth, no person shall be prosecuted for any crime unless a clear and immediate harm to another person or property, to the natural environment shared by all citizens, or to the vital security of the United States, can be demonstrated by the State. Derivative, speculative, or attenuated chains of causation are specifically barred.

    2) Congress shall be authorized to create or incorporate a single, well-monitored and controlled federal police force subject to civilian oversight and strict, detailed limitations on jurisdiction and deployment.

    3) No further income tax shall be levied upon the person. All taxes shall be levied upon commerce carried out within the United States under the network of laws and infrastrucure provided by the United States. Foreign companies which sell goods within the United States shall be subject to this sales tax. Entities which collect sales taxes or revenues on behalf of the United States shall be entitled to compensation for their time and effort, and shall be subject to censure, punishment and forfeiture if they fail to properly account for, or turn over, taxes collected.

    4) Taxes shall be reapportioned among the states so that those states who place the most demands upon the Treasury shall have the highest federal sales tax rate; those who take the least shall be taxed the least. To preserve this check and balance, which served the nation well for over a century, direct election of the senators shall be abolished and they shall once again be appointed by the states and be responsible for their states’ respective apportionments.

    5) The Commerce Clause is abolished. Congress shall now only have the power to carry out those items which are necessary and proper to its’ specifically enumerated powers.

    6) Donations to publically elected officials must henceforth be anonymous and untraceable to any particular organization, advocate, or agenda. Donations cannot be made to or accepted by such elected official in person, but must be made through the Federal Election Commission, who shall oversee all campaign donations, and shall ensure the anonymity of the same. To avoid “tagging” or marking such donations through the use of odd numbers, all donations must be in regular increments rounded to the nearest ten, hundred, or thousand dollar amount. Reports will only be provided to the officials on a periodic basis so that individual donations cannot be determined by comparing daily balances or differences between statements.

    7) As a condition of their office, every publically elected official shall set aside two hours each week to answer questions from their constituents in a live public setting. No member of the press or mass media may be excluded from such meetings based upon the content of any published article or broadcast or opinion expressed therein, nor shall any member of the official’s constituency be denied opportunity to submit questions in a civil and organized fashion. Questions which have not been answered due to time constraints, or which require research or more details for accuracy shall be carried over to the following meeting and shall be answered at that time.

    Non-constitutional changes:

    The United States will no longer pay farmers not to plant, then give money away to foreign nations. Instead, the United States will stop farm subsidies, use that money to buy food grown on those farms, then employ US citizens to ship that food overseas where it can be used directly to combat hunger. It will save money which would otherwise be funnelled into the offshore accounts of dictators and petty tyrants, and empower the people of beleagured lands as well as as help Americans get back to work.

    The borders of the nation will be secured. This does not mean closed, it does not mean sealed, it does not mean fortified. It means we will recognize that there is a security concern and we need to make a serious effort to address it.

  87. KIA @ 98: If you just want pot and porn to be legal, why not say so? “Clear and immediate harm” leaves enough loopholes to drive a large, toxin-carrying semi trailer through.

  88. I’d change amendment A to eliminate the exception for personal volunteer service on behalf of a candidate; not because of any specific legal or philosophical objection, but because those people are annoying.

  89. I like #11 JimF’s idea a lot. You have to limit spending.

    I like the idea of 3,000 congressmen. It would be much more difficult to have just two parties with this many positions to fill and only 100k voters per position.

    I would also put a term limit on congress and give a lot of thought to abolishing the Senate.

  90. You forgot two things:

    1. Incorporate the ERA into the document.

    2. Ditto GLBT rights.

  91. I think if you just change the wording from all men to all people that would accomplish the goal. No need for a separate amendment.

  92. The only way a three-thousand-person legislature could work is if most of the work was delegated to committees and everyone was expected to observe party discipline once a bill made it out of committee. So the small Congressional districts might make it easier for each citizen to have a close relationship with his or her Representative, but that Representative wouldn’t practically be able to do as much.

  93. Seth #99 — whereas now we have a couple of hundred legislators whose duties are primarily to (a) be re-elected and to (b) supervise a staff of thousands who do the actual work of (c) researching and writing law. We’re proposing, in a way, that it be the Congressional staff that’s elected; give them the responsibility to match the authority they’ve been given.

  94. Kia@91: I generally agree that the commerce clause has created a huge federal overreach, but without it, states could create tariffs. Can you imagine what would happen to a state like Nevada, Utah or California if states like Washington or California decided to enact a 10% tariff on any goods passing through their territory?

  95. Personally, I would let the Supreme Court judges keep their lifetime jobs… as long as they make an annual saving throw. You miss your save, you’re out!

  96. You should probably consider something like the Parliamentary Question Time, a requirement that the President (as chief executive) be required to regularly answer questions from the legislature, fully and honestly (with penalties for evasion).

  97. Or, as a wild card, staggered elections – instead of all the States voting every two years for their Congress members, why not have one state voting every month?

  98. Late addendum:

    8) The state shall not be entitled to profit by the enforcement of the law. Any fines, forfeitures or other takings of property in connection with criminal violations shall be paid over to private victim assistance groups, hospitals, and other remedial groups whose purpose is to assist the recovery of those injured by crimes, on a such rotating or proportional basis as Congress shall deem fit.

    Mythago @92: Aren’t you tired of living in fear of violating some unknown statute somewhere? Wouldn’t you prefer to know that as long as you don’t harm another, you can’t be prosecuted? Or would you rather be subject to laws restricting sex, guns, money, entertainment, home-brewing, free enterprise, and life in general? It’s much, much broader than pot and porn.

    The problem is, no politician could ever, ever, get away with meaningful reform of individual laws. The only solution is a headstrike against the state’s ability to prosecute people more or less at will. For example, there is currently a big speeding enforcement push – to plug gaping budget gaps. Is this rational? Aren’t speed limits supposed to be based upon real-world safety concerns? If they are so critical to safety, why aren’t they enforced all the time? Why only now when the state needs money?

    What happens the next time the state needs money? It’s all to reminiscent of the behavior of the monarchs in the middle ages. When they needed money for their armies, they conjured up a new tax and sent out the collectors to hammer on the peasants for existing taxes.

    We’re not supposed to be peasants. We’re supposed to be free.

  99. Steve @102: Article I, Section 10 already has that covered:

    No state shall, without the consent of the Congress, lay any imposts or duties on imports or exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it’s inspection laws: and the net produce of all duties and imposts, laid by any state on imports or exports, shall be for the use of the treasury of the United States; and all such laws shall be subject to the revision and control of the Congress.

  100. KIA @106: I don’t live in fear of violating an unknown law. That said, your definition means any time somebody decides I have “harmed” them, I violate a law. That is, as long as the harm is clear and immediate. If I’m smart enough to cause harm in a way that doesn’t show up “immediately”, I’m off the hook. Poisoners unite!

  101. There have been a few advances in science and technology since the constitution was written, as such I have one small update to the constitution:

    All members of congress shall be required, at the time of voting, to state the reasons for their vote. Upon each members’ completion of their recitation they must also pledge “I have stated every reason for my vote of (yes/no) on (bill).” Each member shall state their reasons and pledge individually and in turn under polygraph along with audio and video recordings. All polygraph results shall be posted to the internet alongside the corresponding audio/video file.

  102. Mythago: your argument is weak, bordering on the absurd. Any purported harm still must be proven before a jury; that same jury would certainly convict if the poison clearly caused an immediate harm to the person. Similarly, there is almost no chance of a conviction based upon such already known doctrines as “incidental contact” and overwrought plaintiffs.

  103. KIA: there are plenty of poisons that do not cause “immediate harm”. But you knew that.

  104. To all the non-fans of term limits on this thread: Let’s think outside the box for a moment. Term limits for elected officials alone would simply put all the power in unelected bureaucrats, and nobody wants that (except perhaps said bureaucrats). My idea is to have a 10- or 12-year limit on everyone in government, whether elected or appointed. Furthermore, I would have a provision which forbids government work as an entry-level position; someone would have to be employed in the productive class before their term in the government, and they would have to return to the productive class afterwards. (This would give people the real-world experience they needed to be effective, but without the stifling qualities of the minimum-age requirement proposed by an earlier poster.)

    By denying the opportunity for anyone to be a career politician, we would make room for true public servants in office, as opposed to the majority of current officeholders, who appear to be there only for their own power and control.

  105. Kev’s idea is interesting. Maybe private citizens can be drafted for a four year term of public service, but can be released as soon as two years based upon good performance.

    Mythago – if “poison” doesn’t hurt you, it isn’t “poison.” If it does hurt you, then it is an immediate harm, Q.E.D.

    If it has not actually harmed you yet, but has been injected or consumed and will, within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, hurt you or kill you after a set point in time, the knowledge of your impending illness or death is still an immediate harm, as will be the actual events. You are talking about problems of proof, not the theory of the law. The theory is sound.

  106. When did the private sector become known as the productive class?

    Kev –

    I’ve met people in both private and public sector jobs who were not what I would describe as particularly productive.

    Would a Wall Street derivatives bond trader count as productive? Like the people involved in creating and sustaining the market for derivatives of “asset backed loans”? I mean, it’s a private sector job, but I’m not sure fabricating money and crashing the global economy could count as productive.

    But then again, that depends on who you would ask. Who gets to decide what the productive class is? Who gets to say what professions are “productive”?

    Also, when you say “everyone elected and appointed” are you including literally everyone associated with government or just political appointees and elected officials?

    It’d be nice if there were more true public servants, I suppose. I would be slower to label all elected officials and political appointees as just out for themselves though. I think most politicians in congress get reelected because they go after a piece of the pie for their state. It’s usually everyone else’s representative that are selfish. My opinion, at least. And the appointees I’ve met have generally been qualified hard working professionals. I’ll admit that this may be / is probably totally different at senior management level. But, that’s the tip of the pyramid.

    Twelve years is still plenty of time for people who are out for themselves to pillage. If they’re into that sort of thing. You know, I heard crist say that rubio made 300k as a lobbiest whilst also being speaker of the house, for the state of Florida. I don’t k ow if that’s true or not. Point is, if people are out for themselves, they’ll just game the system for themselves no matter the actual rules. But, that’s what elections ar for.

  107. Mythago – if “poison” doesn’t hurt you, it isn’t “poison.” If it does hurt you, then it is an immediate harm, Q.E.D.

    Wow. I always thought immediate meant “right away”. My bad!

  108. Immediate is not used in the meaning of “rapid” but in the latter connotations in the listing on

    5.without intervening medium or agent; direct: an immediate cause.
    6.having a direct bearing: immediate consideration.
    7.very close in relationship: my immediate family.
    8.Philosophy. directly intuited.

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