The Supreme Court is set to hear several landmark constitutional cases in 2012, including the legality of Arizona's controversial immigration bill SB 1070. This cases brings to light the constitutional process and raises the question: Should it be easier to amend the Constitution?
The difficulty of amending the Constitution is one of the greatest blessings given to us by the founding fathers, though this may not be immediately clear.
The sheer complexity of the process and the monumental effort required for amending is undeniable, and these factors would seem to make the opposite case clearly enough. It has been amended a paltry 27 times in its 225-year history. Would this then lead one to believe it is a relatively flawless document? Is the Constitution so well-written and so effective in its purpose of directing the American people in their self-government as to be above the need for modification or revision?
Hardly. Anyone who can objectively take stock of the American political processes over the last two centuries will find faults with the Constitution, some more glaring than others. One need only cite the 13th amendment, outlawing slavery and “involuntary servitude” and only passed 78 years and one particularly nasty civil war after the Constitution was ratified, to highlight the fallacy of viewing the document as infallible.
A good law protects and promotes peace and prosperity; similarly, the Constitution guides and ensures our ability to govern ourselves wisely. The amendment process and its myriad difficulties are absolutely essential to this purpose. The necessity becomes self-evident when one considers this from Federalist 51 by James Madison: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. … In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.” It is not without its flaws. More importantly, however, we are not without our own.
In our modern age where speed and instant gratification have become commonplace, the Constitution’s steely self-defense strikes the average mind as ludicrous. And yet, why do we seek to amend it? Ostensibly, to improve upon it and thereby govern ourselves more intelligently, more easily, and (let us hope) with greater prudence. This is, however, perhaps a much too lofty interpretation of our intentions. To put it another way, are we, when we approach the document with hungry eyes, a scalpel, and a fresh pen, acting out of self-interest in the best sense where our governmental process is concerned? Men, after all, are not angels.
Thus, the difficulty of amending is beneficial for two reasons: First, it requires that representatives undergo intense and critical analysis from all sides on all potential amendment. Second, it necessarily prevents both elected officials and the voting population alike from rash and impetuous changes.
Consequently, the People will have the opportunity to ask the two most essential questions of proposed modifications: Why do we want it and how will it improve our governmental process? If the answers to these questions fail to align with the purpose of careful, practical, and sensible self-government, the document helps to keep us from making governmentally detrimental short and long-term alterations.
Photo Credit: Nevele Otseog