Are parts of our Constitution archaic?
In the hot summer of 1787, 55 delegates from the original 13 states assembled in Philadelphia to draft a constitution creating a representative form of government unique in human history. This convergence of men of vision and wisdom was little short of a miracle, and the document they created has served our country well for 220 years in an increasingly complex world. But no one could be expected to have the prescience to foresee all of the changes in conditions and needs that would confront the nation they created two centuries into the future.Although the vast majority of the provisions of our Constitution and the first ten amendments (known as the Bill of Rights) are still valid today, there are several provisions which have been made archaic by the passage of time.
The first of these is the Second Amendment which states, “A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to bear Arms shall not be infringed.” The need for, or even the existence of, such a militia has long since passed, and the firepower of personal weapons has increased so drastically that changes to the Second Amendment are sorely needed. Annual gun-related deaths in the U.S. exceed 29,000 – two-thirds of the annual number of automobile-related deaths. The annual homicide rate in the U.S. is 34 per million people, 100 times the rates in Britain or Japan, where access to firearms is more closely regulated.The 14th Amendment, enacted in 1868 to guarantee citizenship rights to recently-freed slaves, includes the provision, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States … are citizens of the United States …” is also outdated. That provision is a holdover from the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, and should be modified to apply only to children born to naturalized citizens.Another anachronism in our Constitution is the presidential election process through the Electoral College. In 1787, communications and literacy were limited, so it was deemed advisable to have the people vote for Electors whose ability they trusted to make a wise choice for the president and vice president. That system gives states with small populations a larger voice per capita in the election process, and as has happened more than once, does not elect the candidate with the larger popular vote.
This brings up a question of our entire election process by which we elect a president for a fixed term of four years, independently of the legislative branch. This often leads to a bitter tug-of-war between the president and Congress, stalling progress in serving the needs of the country, and leaving us stuck for the remainder of the term of a president in whom the country has lost confidence. In Article II, the framers of the Constitution included a provision for the impeachment and removal from office of the president, vice president and other civil officers, but what they had in mind is ineffectual because it has become nothing more than a political sideshow. We would be better served by the parliamentary system, in which the prime minister is the head of the majority party, essentially ending partisan feuding between the executive and legislative branches. Then if the majority party is replaced in a subsequent election, which can be called if there is a vote of no confidence in the government, the prime minister is also replaced by the head of the new majority party. Such a system can respond more quickly to changes in domestic or international needs and to the will of the electorate.Over the years, important constitutional changes have been made. As early as 1804, the 12th Amendment changed the election of the vice president from the runner-up in the vote for president to a separate vote. In 1913, the 17th Amendment changed the choice of senators from selection by the state legislators to popular vote. The 19th Amendment gave women voting rights in 1920, and the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1971.
It is again time to modernize our Constitution to make it better able to serve the needs of our country in the 21st century.Hal Sundin’s column appears every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
Legislation may need to be adjusted to maintain its validity.