Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
Should the NYS or the Federal Constitution be amended? The idea has merit as well as dangers. The NYS League of Women Voters neither supports nor opposes amending the NYS Constitution, but does support the following principles:
- Education and involvement of the public must be an integral part of each phase of the process.
- Planning should be given adequate time and sufficient funding.
- Nonpartisanship is essential.
The League believes that specific conditions should be incorporated in the policies and procedures established for constitutional conventions:
- Pre-Convention Commission: A preparatory commission should be appointed with adequate time to study the issues, establish the agenda and procedures and prepare position papers for the convention. Such a commission should provide ongoing information to the public and solicit its participation.
- Convention delegates: A delegate body of workable size should be elected by a fair, nonpartisan process. In accord with League principles, delegates should reflect our society with representation of women, ethnic, racial, socioeconomic minorities. The candidates’ positions on issues and convention goals should be widely publicized to enable voters to cast informed votes at their election. Present office holders should not be eligible to serve as delegates; however, they might be considered as consultants. A constitutional amendment will be necessary to meet some of these criteria.
- Convention process: Procedures must be put in place to reduce partisanship, by assuring that committees and committee chairmanship are beyond party control.
Reasonable time limits must be placed on the length of the convention and its costs.
The issues to be considered must be determined in advance by the pre-convention commission and researched by position papers, which are complete and available at the time of the convention. Meetings of the delegates should be open, held at acceptable convenient hours, with full media coverage.
- Ballot Issues: Widespread public hearings and adequate voter education are necessary prior to the placement of referenda on the ballot. Constitutional amendment. recommended by a convention should be submitted to the voters as separate issues.
As noted, a prior amendment to the NYS Constitution would be necessary for these conditions to be met. But without such safeguards, a convention would likely reflect the interests of political parties and current office holders rather than the people. Even with conditions such as the above, there is a danger that radically different views between segments of the population would make agreement difficult and might lead to the repeal of important provisions in the present NYS Constitution.
Former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens would amend the Federal Constitution. His ideas include the following:
- Removing from First Amendment protection any “reasonable limits” on campaign spending enacted by Congress or the states.
- Changing the Second Amendment to make clear that only a state’s militia, not its citizens, has a constitutional right to bear arms.
- Changing the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishments” by specifically including the death penalty.
- Requiring that congressional and state legislative districts be “compact and composed of contiguous territory” to stop both parties from carving out safe seats.
- Eliminating states’ sovereign immunity from liability for violating the Constitution or an act of Congress.
Another proposal, not explicitly on Stevens’ list, is to amend the Constitution to make clear that the First Amendment applies only to natural persons. While these may be good ideas, it is unlikely that there is a political consensus at present in favor of any of them. It many cases, the antithesis of Stevens’ ideas might prove more popular. I am particularly uneasy with any change to the First Amendment–the problem with “Citizen’s United” isn’t the Constitution but the overzealous interpretation of the First Amendment by the current court. Better that we live with “Citizen’s United” with the possibility that the Court will someday reverse itself, than chance undermining First Amendment in some harmful way. Similarly with the Second Amendment–better the current ambiguity than a clear statement that might make reasonable control of firearms even more difficult than it is today.
© William Hungerford – April 2014