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Amending the Constitution

February 25th, 2004

Amending the Constitution of the United States is supposed to be a historic and lofty event; we do not lightly or crassly change what to Americans is (or should be) a document sacred to us. And yet, all too often politicians, often for their own sordid, partisan motives, put forth proposals to amend the highest law of the country.

President Bush has done exactly this with the proposed amendment against gay marriage. Aside from being homophobic, discriminatory, and insulting to a sizable segment of the population, it is also opportunistic and highly politically motivated. Bush knows it will never pass two-thirds of both houses of Congress and three-quarters of all states. It is clear it will fail. So Bush is obviously not doing this out of principle. He is doing this solely to use the most sacred document of our country, the Constitution, and the rights of an entire class of our society, as a gross partisan political weapon during a presidential election year. This, in my book, is yet another reason to get this man out of the White House as soon as is humanly possible–say, January 20th of next year. Impeachment would be better, but the Republicans control the Senate, so not much hope there.

Bush said that he is acting out of concern because of “activist judges” in Massachusetts (mostly appointed by Republicans, by the way) are legislating from the bench. This charge is so old and tired it should have been put to sleep long ago. Whenever a court comes to a decision that conservatives don’t like, they always resort to that knee-jerk appellation, “legislating from the bench.” Well, go ahead and read the decision (PDF file)–it is very easy for the layman to understand for a high court opinion, and is very well written. The dissent (PDF file), on the other hand, is far less reasoning; it is clear that at least Sosnan is opining from personal prejudice, and Spina doesn’t recognize that the judiciary is empowered to check the legislature if it finds that its laws violate the state constitution.

Just for edification purposes, here is the process for amending the constitution; here are the six amendments that passed Congress but not the states, and here is a list of proposed amendments over the past dozen years or so that never got past Congress.

I have selected some of the more dubious ones from the US Constitution.Net site, and listed & commented on them below.

Calling for the repeal of the 8th Amendment and its replacement with wording prohibiting incarceration for minor traffic offenses (for those of you who would have to look it up, the 8th is the one about Cruel and Unusual punishment)

Apart from the traffic offenses part sounding weird, this one is dangerous–it would open up all kinds of unthinkable punishments. Definitely a bad idea.

To allow for any person who has been a citizen of the United States for twenty years or more to be eligible for the Presidency

The “Schwarzenegger Amendment.” Not that the idea itself is that unreasonable (I could argue for or against it), it’s just when a constitutional amendment is aimed at one person for current political gain–or, in fact, any amendment is intended for a short-sighted, partisan political goal–it is almost certainly a very, very bad idea.

To limit pardons granted between October 1 and January 21 of any presidential election year

Some Clinton-hater dreamed this one up as a way to block lame duck presidents from enacting corrupt pardons on their way out. Or it could have been a Bush 41-hater, George Sr. had his own highly questionable last-minute pardons. While it could be possible that corrupt pardons go through, that window could be a time for righteous pardons that might otherwise be undoable to go through as well. And again, it is based on a present-day political situation. This could be viable, but I would want to see more evidence that it is truly a problem for the country.

To allow a Presidential pardon of an individual only after said individual has been tried and convicted of a crime

As much as I would have loved to have seen Nixon prosecuted, I think this one is more vindictive than useful. A pardon is a pardon, and is meant to alleviate a wrongdoing or to alleviate a national crisis. This amendment is designed to see political opponents twist in the wind before they are reprieved. We can do without that.

To declare that life begins at conception and that the 5th and 14th amendments apply to unborn children

Talk about imposing religious beliefs…

To clarify that the Constitution neither prohibits nor requires school prayer

Which is to say, opening the door to allow same, again imposing beliefs. You gotta love that “nor requires” bit–added to make it sound less biased.

To provide for “moments of silence” in public schools

I have even less respect for them if they don’t have the guts to say what they really mean.

To provide for the reconfirmation of federal judges every 10 years

Can anyone say “judicial gerrymandering”? Very bad idea. This would make political hostages out of judges, and lead to all sorts of political manipulation of the justice system–as if we don’t already have far more than enough of that already.

To provide for the recall of Representatives and Senators

Booo! Even if used on Republicans! If they did that bad, impeach them. If not, live with it until the built-in recall process–we call them “elections”–comes around. Recalls open the door for removing politicians for purely political reasons, as we’ve seen. Too opportunistic and destabilizing.

To force a three-fifths vote for any bill that raises taxes

Taxes pay for stuff. Unless lowering taxes is similarly difficult, this is a bad idea. Too much a conservative obsession–taxes, though painful, are nevertheless necessary. It is already too hard to pass them when they are needed.

To repeal the 26th Amendment (granting the vote to 18-year olds) and granting the right to vote to 16-year olds

Um… why??

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  1. Jen
    February 26th, 2004 at 04:32 | #1

    This crusade to outlaw gay marriage really disturbs me. Religious objections have no place in the legislature, and the rest is just political pandering that results in discrimination against a minority group. I don’t even UNDERSTAND the argument that “marriage is not a civil right”. I guess voting didn’t use to be a civil right either….or owning property…. or sitting down on a bus.

    I particularly find the claim that “gay marriage would de-stabilize society” to be quite absurd. Historical records show that there have been gay populations in all documented societies, going back more than 2000 years. Being gay is, to my mind, a normal part of human society and you cannot wipe it out. It is our societal tolerance which fluctuates, just as we discriminate against people due to their genetically determined physical characteristics or their socially adopted religious beliefs.

    No politician or media figure has produced a single research study that proves that gay marriage would have an adverse effect on society. Isn’t it more likely to have a stabilising effect within the gay population – encouraging monogamy and possibly reducing the risks of STDs? Reducing the incidence of single parenthood? (Yes George, gay people can and do have children. And there is nothing you can do about that, unless you would like to make everyone apply for a permit to bear and raise children.)

    Ironically, there is good evidence that divorce and single parenthood cause social destabilisation – the breakdown of the family unit, latch-key children, poverty. But who, except for a crazed religious fanatic, would want to create legislation that would prevent people from leaving a failed marriage? Or forcibly remove newborn babies from single mothers? Why do we think we can legislate against a small group of people (on the false charge that they are destabilizing society) and yet we insist that the larger group (who do inadvertently destabilize society) have a moral, legal and civil right to their actions? Isn’t that hypocritical in the extreme? Why are we making such a scapegoat out of gay people?

    My husband and I pay more income tax due to being married, than if we were single living together. We get a financial PENALTY, not a benefit, from our marriage. I simply don’t buy into the argument that gay marriage would place a financial burden on the government, due to the associated Federal rights. Everyone else has the right to those benefits – such as they are – why not someone who is gay? Are gay people worth less than straight people?

    Why does society always have to have someone to hate?

  2. February 28th, 2004 at 23:57 | #2

    We studied the constitution a lot last semester, so I thought I might chime in on this one:

    26th amendment: The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age.

    Historically, conservatives have always wanted to limit the franchise. Repealing the 26th amendment would not only allow states to raise the minimum voting age, but also elderly people and well…pretty much any age their legislatures determined.

    As far as the 8th amendment goes, it’s not at all surprising that someone would want to repeal any prohibition on excessive bail/fines and cruel punishment. Though I’d argue that mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession and the death penalty in general (among other things) are cruel and unusual.

    And as long as we’re talking about the shredding of the Constitution: I think one of the most dangerous things we’re facing today is the Bush administration’s assertions that the U.S. itself is a battleground in the “war on terrorism” — it opens the door for sidestepping due process …which is exactly what’s happening.

  3. February 29th, 2004 at 00:09 | #3

    I completely agree with what she said, by the way =)

  4. Steve S
    July 12th, 2007 at 04:33 | #4

    I disagree with amending the constitution for recalling our representatives, especially Senators who are elected for six years, at least with Congressman/Congresswoman they are only there for two years, and the President only four years, it makes no sense to have someone in office that does not represent the true beliefs of his or her district or state and then have no recourse except to wait years to elect someone else. There should be a way of holding your representatives accountable, I have no problem with Congressman and Congresswoman, their terms are short enough that they are always looking over their shoulder. I do not want someone there not representing the wishes of the majority. That is our check against the President when he goes against public opinion, the Iraq war makes this obvious. We have no power to bring a end to this war even though anyone with any intelligence knows it is a civil war than can not be decided by our occupation, we are only fueling the war itself. The Republicans refuse to go against their President and Party even though now 70% of American wants us to impliment a withdrawl of Iraq to be done by March 2008. When our country’s foreign policy is being driven by the Military Complex and Corporate Oil we have lost our democracy, this is exactly what Eisenhower warned us of when he left office, a Republican no less!!!
    If you don’t believe the Republican senators are worried about their support from the oil PACs and defense PACs you are very ignorant, and just plain stupid.

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