Friday, February 28, 2014
The Constitution of the United States. (Mike Flippo/Shutterstock )
The Constitution's 27 Amendments read like a tour through American history.
Many of our foundational freedoms are described in The Bill of Rights, the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution, which were required by many states before they agreed to ratify our Constitution in the first place.
Amendments 13, 14 and 15 outlawed slavery, mandated equal protection and extended voting rights to African-Americans—a right that Amendment 19 also extended to women.
Prohibition began with the 18th Amendment, in 1919, a grand experiment that ended with the 21st Amendment in 1933. And the 26th Amendment extended voting rights to Americans between the ages of 18 and 21, just as many of those citizens were getting drafted for Vietnam .
Our friends at the National Constitution Center (NCC) spent the month of February celebrating the Amendments with their 27 Amendments in 27 Days project. To keep the discussion going through the 28th day of February, they asked their visitors, and we've asked you—our listeners—what should be the 28th Amendment to the Constitution?
Kerry Sautner , vice president of visitor experience and education the National Constitution Center, has the results. The NCC spent the month polling museum visitors and online guests about a possible 28th Amendment, and Sautner says there were a slew of different suggestions and results.
"Our top [suggestion] so far is term limits for Congress," says Sautner. "The next four are really close in line—they're all about a vote away from each other so it's a very tight race for what comes in second and third. The second one was general campaign finance reform, the third one was eliminating corporate personhood, which I heard from your [audience] as well which is interesting. The fourth one was abolishing the electoral college, which I feel is one that will always come up. A marriage equality amendment came in very high with us as well, as well as the equal rights amendment."
While these crowd-sourced ideas for a 28th Amendment are reflective of larger concerns within American society, Sautner says the practical adoption of a 28th Amendment would be a Herculean task despite popular opinion.
"It's definitely very difficult," says Sautner. "The beauty of the
Constitution is that it has the ability to be amended, to be added to or to be changed. That's a brilliant thing that our framers put into it—they had gone through the experience of the Articles of Confederation, where you had to have a unanimous vote to change anything. It never happened because it's too hard—you just can't get everybody to agree."
Realizing that over time the nation may want to make changes to the Constitution, the nation's founders established the amendment process in Article V of the Constitution. Yet unlike laws and regulations, which can be passed or amended by a simple voting majority in Congress, the Constitution is difficult to change.
An amendment can be offered in one of two ways. In the first, two-thirds of the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives would need to call for a change to be made, or in the second option, at least 34 states would need to call for a national constitutional convention to make a change. Once the amendment is proposed, three-fourths of the state legislatures or state conventions (38 of 50 states) must vote to approve the change.
"They didn't want to make it easy—you don't want to change something on a whim," says Sautner. "So it has to go through a long process to amend the Constitution. You're really changing how our country works and the structure of government when you're doing that."
The Takeaway got tons of responses for a 28th Amendment from listeners from across the country. Below you'll see just a few from our many heartfelt calls and comments—listen to the full interview to hear more:
"My amendment would be the right to pure water, clean air and a healthy environment for present and future generations," says Maya van Rossum from the Delaware River Watershed.
Rick from Los Angeles called in too, saying, "My Constitutional amendment would be to make election days a federal holiday thereby making it illegal for anyone not to be able to vote anytime during when the polls are open."
A listener from Anoka, MN would suggest a 28th Amendment that addresses "Congressional term limits to put an end to career politicians."
Listen to the full interview to hear more suggestions.