On Constitutional Amendments

Richard Shugrue
Richard Shugrue
The Daily Record

If your political ox has been gored recently, you’ll probably want to join the march to amend the U.S. Constitution.

You may even be one of those people who think that a new constitutional convention is just the vehicle to get rid of the Electoral College or repeal the Second Amendment or put term limits on the Supreme Court.

Or you may have a single pet project, such as making the Senate more in line with the country’s demographics, so that, for example, the huge population of California has more say in passing laws than the Dakotas (or Nebraska!). So you might favor driving a single amendment to the enactment line the “old fashioned way.”

Despite what some political loud mouths might tell you, the Constitution was not carved in granite by founders in the 1780s and has been altered a number of times (though not nearly as much as any state’s constitution; these seem to be altered as often as retirees play golf.)  Ballotpedia reminds us that the Cornhusker state’s basic law has been altered 228 times. California’s has been amended 514 times!

National columnist E.J. Dionne wrote a little over a week ago about a venture by law profs on behalf of the journal Democracy to consider constitutional revisions for a new age.  The task was led by Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas Law School.

The suggestions include a popularly elected president, a 16-year limit for Supreme Court justices and an altered Bill of Rights. Obviously, the proposals skew to the left and would be hard to get ratified in the “usual” way (two-thirds of both houses of Congress propose and ratification by three-fourths of the states).

If, on the other hand, a constitutional convention were called, Katy, bar the door!

One of the commenters to Dionne’s column in The Washington Post said liberals would hope they would get a repeal of the Second Amendment, an end to the electoral college, federally-enforced voting rights, for example, and what they would get is exactly the opposite.

Amending the basic document was never supposed to be easy, but as Dionne says, the job was accomplished to give us the Civil War amendments (13th, 14th and 15th), the right of women to vote and other Progressive Era changes (the direct election of senators and the income tax) and the 25th, on presidential disability and succession.

We’ve even had the dumbbell amendment, prohibition, (the 18th) followed by the repeal via the 21st, just a little over a dozen years later.

My guess is Nebraskans do not want repeal of the Second Amendment or the Electoral College, and as long as conservatives firmly control the Supreme Court, they don’t want an increase in numbers or a limit to terms.  Like their neighbors in the Dakotas, Huskers don’t want greater senatorial power for California or New York.  What liberals have to do is get Nebraskans to convert to their way of thinking and voting!


Richard Shugrue is a professor emeritus at the Creighton University School of Law and a columnist for The Daily Record.


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