Would These 6 Constitutional Amendments Improve U.S Democracy?

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The authors of the U.S. Constitution ensured that the country’s founding document could be adjusted by subsequent generations. Modifications began even as the last of the original colonies were ratifying it in 1789 and 1790, with the First Congress debating the first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights.

Subsequently, a number of key societal changes pushed other major changes. Slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment; citizenship was redefined to give African-American men and women the vote by the 15th and 19th Amendments, respectively; prohibition was implemented by the 18th Amendment and then repealed by the 21st. Presidents were limited to two terms by the 22nd; poll taxes were repealed by the 24th Amendment; and the voting age was lowered to 18 by the 26th. But no amendment has been added to the United States since 1992, when the 27th Amendment, prohibiting Congress from increasing its own salaries in the middle of the term, was ratified.

Despite the fact that polls increasingly show that Americans are dissatisfied with how poorly Washington functions, no serious efforts have been made to remedy the perceived failings of the federal government through amendments to the Constitution. Some proposals have been made, most notably by former Justice John Paul Stevens, who sat on the bench of the Supreme Court from 1975 until his retirement in June 2010. As the title of his recently released book — Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution — suggests, he has a plan to refresh the Constitution in order to better “to protect our democracy and the safety and wellbeing of American citizens.”

The changes included in former Supreme Court justice’s reform manifesto can be divided into two broad categories: structural changes to the U.S. government and changes to individual liberties. In the former category are his proposals to require state officials to enforce federal law, to do away with political gerrymandering, and to eliminate state sovereign immunity. He also suggested that the Second Amendment’s protection for the right to bear arms should be excised, that Congress and state legislatures should be allowed to limit the amount of money individuals can spend on election campaigns, and that the death penalty should be outlawed.

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