A Proposal: The Democracy and Human Rights Amendments to the Constitution
The last two weeks a radical right wing Supreme Court radically transformed American life in all the wrong ways across a broad array of issues: women's rights, environmental regulations, gun safety, immigrant rights, indigenous rights, housing, public health, and protecting people from police violence. The conservative majority made decisions to take away fundamental rights and in other cases the Court stripped away legislation and regulation that the overwhelming majority of Americans desire and demand. The Supreme Court fed every right wing ideological bent undermining their own legitimacy and with it, the foundations of our democratic republic. Our democracy does not consistently represent the will of the people in any branch of government creating a crisis of legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens.
The ongoing January 6 hearings remind of us how razor thin close we were to a dictatorship. This reality is sadly reinforced by a Republican Party within which support for the outcome of dictatorship far outweighs the voices of reason fair and free elections. We are living in times when it is courageous and notable for Republicans to simply voice support for the basic tenets of democracy and the longstanding norms and functions of the Constitution.
The moribund state of American political parties are not just an issue for one side. We should be rightfully concerned about the fecklessness of the Democratic Party establishment that finds great difficulty in prosecuting traitors who led an insurrection and refuses robustly and politically to ostracize enablers and supporters of would be autocrats. The Democrats seem to look the gift horse of hold majoritarian positions on most issues in the mouth, failing time and again to advocate forcefully and to implement the will of the people.
The challenges of our day require more than the political wrangling of normal politics, of the promise of winning the next election. The current situation requires a fundamental rethinking Quite simply: a republic that consistently can not deliver what the majority of its citizens want must certainly be doomed. Fundamental change is required. We must change the Constitution.
Organizing for Constitutional change will not be easy, but doing so will have much bigger, long-term payoffs. As future ancestors, we owe our children and their children to look beyond the politics of today to fix what is fundamentally broken in our democracy. Each successive generation of Americans have expanded the meaning of democracy and human rights in the foundational document of our government. It is now our turn.
How do we make Constitutional change?
Article V of the Constitution provides two ways to propose amendments to the document. Amendments may be proposed either by the Congress, through a joint resolution passed by a two-thirds vote, or by a convention called by Congress in response to applications from two-thirds of the state legislatures. Then 3/4 of the convention or 3/4 of the states must ratify an Amendment. The barriers to Constitutional changes are high, but the pressing needs for this government to evolve are that much higher.
I would argue that we need to combine multiple amendments focused on restoring and building a functioning democracy and extending the original Bill of Rights, equal protections, and other rights amendments to a more robust, modern view of human rights. Passing amendments is a laborious process, so let's have the states look at ten together in a new Constitutional Convention or series of votes in state legislatures to apply and then vote on the amendments.
Here is a rough sketch of what the ten Democracy and Human Rights Amendments might entail.
An Amendment That Already Passed (Amendment XXVIII) - Equal Rights Amendment (Join Our Organizing Group)
ERA has already been passed by the requisite number of states and needs Congress to pass an act that eliminates the original deadline which ended in 1982. The amendment read as follows:
Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
New Amendment 1 (Amendment XXIX) - Abolish Electoral College; Elect President and Vice-President by Popular Vote (Join Inaugural Organizing Group)
This amendment would abolish the electoral college and make the election of President and Vice-President solely based on the popular vote. Every state and every citizen would be equally important in electing the leader of the country. Five of the Supreme Court justices were nominated by a President who did not win the majority of votes so of course the Court will not represent the will and interests of the majority of Americans.
New Amendment 2 (Amendment XXX) - Washington DC Statehood Amendment (Join Inaugural Organizing Group)
Washington DC will receive statehood for representation purposes, including voting members of both chambers of Congress based on apportionment laid out in the Constitution. Washington DC has a higher population than Vermont and Wyoming and is in the same range of states like Alaska and the Dakotas. We have a lot of Americans that are simply not represented in the political system.
New Amendment 3 (Amendment XXXI) - Term limits for the elected representatives, judges and officers of the United States Amendment (Join Inaugural Organizing Group)
Term limits are controversial, but the nation finds itself in a current state where the older generation holds much of the power and is making decisions that adversely affect the succeeding generations. To engender a more active citizenry we need some churn in positions of power and authority. An initial take on term limits follows:
- House of Representatives - 12 years (6 total terms)
- Senate - 18 years (3 total terms), no more than 20 years for those who took office mid-term.
- Federal judges including Justices of the Supreme Court - 20 years in any one position.
These term limits allow qualified and responsive leaders to make their way through successive degrees of responsibility while not becoming entrenched in any one power center. In the legislative bodies, it allows leadership positions to be better tied to merit as opposed to seniority.
New Amendment 4 (Amendment XXXII) - Majority Vote Amendment and Rules for the appointment and confirmation of federal judges and justices of the Supreme Court (Join Inaugural Organizing Group)
In short, we have to make the Senate rules fair and representative of the majority of citizens. This amendment addresses the major deficiencies of Senate rules and norms, many of which have already been undermined by the current generation of Senators. Given the break of protocol and tradition that Sen. Mitch McConnell displayed with Supreme Court justices in not giving Merrick Garland a hearing in early 2016 and promptly reversing course with Amy Coney Barrett much later in the election year of 2020 and given some of the holding up of judicial appointments, the Constitution needs to spell out clearly the process and require that the Senate hold up and down votes on Presidential appointees to the bench within a certain specified period of time, perhaps a period of 3-4 months. If that time overlaps with the next administration, the appointments should not be made or voted upon. Senate rules have already changed those votes to majority votes and its time to enshrine majority rule in the Senate and end the filibuster for all voting. Super-majority voting means almost nothing gets done: good, bad, or otherwise. Returning majority rule to the "world's greatest deliberative body" would make the Senate a better legislative body.
New Amendment 5 (Amendment XXXIII) - Congressional Apportionment Amendment (Join Inaugural Organizing Group)
It is time to more evenly base the Senate on population On Senate apportionment, the issue is that we have a small number of citizens in the smallest states with much more power than citizens from larger states. One way we might apportion Senators is that the smallest 10-15 states receive one Senator, that the bulk of states still receive 2 Senators and that the 10-15 largest states receive 3-5 Senators based on population. We can maintain the ethos of federalism and the relative size of the Senate while being more representative of the people.
This amendment would also outlaw gerrymandering that both parties have used and codify nonpartisan processes for states to establish Congressional districts.
New Amendment 6 (Amendment XXXIV) - Limit Money in Politics Amendment (Join Inaugural Organizing Group)
The Citizens United decision needs to be overturned through an amendment. The unlimited money in politics means wealthy voices and the voices of corporations hold much greater sway in our politics than they should. Politicians spend much of their time fundraising and being responsive to these monied interests. The Constitution should give Congress and the states full power to prescribe contribution limits and should take away corporate personhood for the purposes of campaign contributions.
New Amendment 7 (Amendment XXXV) - Voting Rights Amendment (Join Inaugural Organizing Group)
No Congressional act or state may pass laws that obstruct citizens from voting, including those who have been previously found guilty of a crime. This amendment should also make Election Day a national holiday and should instruct Congress and the states to make laws to make it easy as possible to vote.
New Amendment 8 (Amendment XXXVI) - Bodily Autonomy Amendment (Abortion Rights) (Join Inaugural Organizing Group)
With the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, we need to enshrine abortion rights into the Constitution so that the can be no legislation or judicial edicts that take away decisions that must be made by women and in cases of issues of health, with the health care provider.
New Amendment 9 (Amendment XXXVII) - Health Care Rights Amendment (Join Inaugural Organizing Group)
The expansion of human rights must include the right to health care, not just emergency ambulatory care. "Promoting the general welfare" in the preamble to the Constitution and the principle of "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness" enshrined on the Declaration as natural rights that must be guaranteed starts with health and access to health care. This amendment would give Congress and the states just the authority, but the responsibility to ensure that every American has adequate access to health care.
New Amendment 10 (Amendment XXXVIII) - Life Amendment (Gun and Armaments Regulation) (Join Inaugural Organizing Group)
This amendment would clarify the well-regulated militia clause of the second amendment would state clearly that the Congress and the states do in fact have the power to regulate firearms and other weapons, that weapons of war should not be available for individual or local police use, and that the right to bear arms is not absolute.
These Democracy and Human Rights Amendments taken individually and collectively could transform our country to be the kind of nation that most of us want it to be, where the Democratic norms of majority rules and fair representation are further enshrined in the Constitution and that we commit the government of the people to the people's 21st century collective understanding of human rights. Passing these amendments would better position the country to be the kind of place that we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in. Let's get to work in organizing for this desperately needed change.
From here on, this website, We The People, is dedicated to building a movement to passing these and other democracy and human rights amendments to the Constitution that emerge from the movement. If any of these amendments speak to you, join those individual groups. If you have ideas about what should be included in those amendments, or want to suggest others, please do so. If you would like to work to organize states to have conventions and to put pressure on Congress, please join the overall Organizing Group for the Democracy and Human Rights Amendments
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