Reader Request Week 2010 #2: Rewriting the Constitution
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.