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I asked Notre Dame professors what amendments should be added to the Constitution

| Thursday, September 30, 2021

In its 233-year history, the U.S. Constitution has only been amended 27 times. There are two ways to amend the Constitution, but the biggest hurdle is that three-fourths of the states must ratify an amendment for it to be officially added to the Constitution. This makes the amendment process very difficult and explains why the last meaningful amendment was 50 years ago with the ratification of the 26th Amendment, which granted the right to vote to all Americans at least 18 years of age.

Despite this challenging procedure, it’s still important to consider potential amendments to the Constitution and how they may contribute to solving our nation’s most pressing problems. To assist in this inquiry, I asked four Notre Dame professors the following question: “If you were able to add one amendment to the Constitution, what would it be?” Below are their answers (in quotes), followed by analysis from either the professor or from my own research.

I hope readers take this column as an opportunity to reflect on the American political system. As we navigate the political, economic, social and other issues of our nation, we must consider how our system of government influences our problems and solutions. This is especially true when considering America’s deepening political polarization over the last few decades, making cooperation increasingly more challenging. Through thoughtful consideration, we can engage in the conversations and actions necessary to address these concerns.

David Campbell, Packey J. Dee Professor of American Democracy

“SECTION 1. Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.

SECTION 2. Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.”

When asked why he supported this amendment, professor Campbell explained that “Historically, voting has been far more difficult in the United States than other nations. The result is that the voter turnout rate in the U.S. is low, and those who do turn out are more likely to be socially advantaged. While the trend in the 20th century was to expand the franchise and make it easier to vote, the 21st century has taken us backward, as many states have made it more difficult to vote — and those difficulties fall mostly on the disadvantaged.”

Sandra M. Gustafson, Professor of English and Concurrent Professor of American Studies

“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 or gender.

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.”

Professor Gustafson’s amendment is a modified version of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), adding “gender” to the phrase “on account of sex” in the first section. The ERA’s purpose is to guarantee equal legal rights for all citizens regardless of sex. Professor Gustafson’s edit extends this anti-discriminatory protection to gender-based discrimination, particularly in areas of divorce, property, employment and other areas.

The ERA was initially passed by Congress in 1972 and has seen 38 states approve the amendment, reaching the number necessary for ratification. However, some states have rescinded their ratification and there is a current effort to extend the amendment’s time limit for ratification, leading to a legal inquiry as to the validity of the ERA’s ratification.

Matthew E. K. Hall, Professor of Political Science

Professor Hall expressed concern for the life tenure status held by Supreme Court justices. Currently, an appointment to the Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment, ending at a justice’s retirement or death.

On the topic, he wrote that “Life tenure creates bizarre incentives for presidents appointing justices, Senators deciding whether to confirm justices, and justices deciding when to retire. As a result of this system, the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution depends on random and unpredictable factors that are completely unrelated to popular will or law.”

Although he did not advocate for a particular amendment, he explained, “There are numerous specific proposals to remedy this problem, most of which limit the justices’ terms to 15 or 18 years and allow a president to appoint a new justice every two years. Any of those would be a huge improvement to our Constitution.”

A. James McAdams, William M. Scholl Professor of International Affairs

Professor McAdams said he believed the most pressing issue of the Constitution was the preamble. He wrote, “If you look at our preamble, you can see both the roots of our radical individualism and the absence of precepts, especially human dignity, that make a loving community of human beings possible. There is nothing more important than human dignity!”

To resolve the lack of a specific commitment to human dignity, he suggested adding two lines from the first article of the German Basic Law and making them the new preamble to the Constitution. In German Basic law, those lines are:

“(1) The dignity of man is inviolable. To respect and protect it is the duty of all state authority.

(2) The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights to be the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world.”

The author would like to note that this column was inspired by an essay published in the New York Times Aug. 4 with a similar concept.

 

Blake Ziegler is a junior at Notre Dame from New Orleans, Louisiana, with double majors in political science and philosophy. He enjoys writing about politics, Judaism and the occasional philosophical rant. For inquiries, he can be reached at [email protected] or followed at @NewsWithZig on Twitter if you want to see more of his opinions.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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