Though I mostly completed “falling off the (northern) hemisphere” a few years ago, I’m still a US citizen, with a lot of ties to the US political and economic system, despite happily being a legal immigrant in Uruguay. From where I vote in US elections, by overseas ballot to the USA, something that unfortunately my Uruguayan friends in the opposite situation cannot do easily or in most cases, at all, if they live outside our little Southern Cone nation. Though I’ve rarely updated this blog (never mind the book manuscript not-very-progressing), I have been prolifically posting on social media, chatting wise, snark-tweeting current US politics (especially the great “reality show” debates in both parties – best drama/comedy on TV!). I’ve still got skin in the game, and an interest in improving the USA.
With that perspective, I hereby submit these “Modest Proposals” for 21 new Constitutional Amendments. I’d love to hear your thoughts on them, alternatives to them, support or horror at them, in the comments here (if you’re a political junkie you already have a Disqus ID, right? On lots of Left, Right, and other sites), or on the shares of this at my +MarkMercer Google+, my @mcmxs Twitter, or my marcoscristofo Facebook. (In that order of preference, for serious responses, but use your fav if you must.)
Likelihood of getting any of these enacted, of course, is damn slim. Just like all the other proposals for amendments over the past umpteen years. Unlike most of those folks, I do not have a “send money to join the crusade” link, nor am I using the abominable Change.org or the even-worse (now-for-profit) cellphone company Credo Action Network, or other meaningless feelgood (and Politics-as-Usual donation-harvesting) sites. (Nor the equally despicable equivalents of the “Right.”) Instead, I hope I can stimulate some thought and discussion. Then, you think about which of these do and don’t make sense to you, and do what you think you should do next.
I will almost guarantee that if you are any kind of “political partisan” of either the US Institutional Left Democrats, or the US Institutional Right Republicans, or of the Tea Party branch of the Right, or the Democratic Socialist Branch of the Left, or the Libertarians out on a totally different axis (don’t think unidimensionally), or a Green on another axis, there are things you will love, and there are things you will hate, in my list. For example, you might love, or hate, that I explicitly enumerate Education as a responsibility of the Federal Government (so much for the GOP’s big Oops and since-Reagan talking point), but if you hate that, you’re probably the type of person who’ll love that I make the right to keep and bear firearms explicitly an individual right that has no connection to any regulated militia. But will hate that in the same Amendment I mandate registration of firearms. While loving that I make permits “must-issue”. If you love my making Healthcare a universal right, you’ll hate something else, like how I restrict a lot of things to US citizens, legal permanent residents, and those in the process of legal permanent residency, rather than to anybody who happens to show up. But you’ll probably then like the mandatory extended early voting.
Which means I did my job, thinking hard about this, after four and a half decades of active voting, longer than that of being politically active (I rang doorbells for Gene McCarthy while in high school.) I’m not “partisan”, I’m passionate about things, I realize there’s no one party nor candidate with all the right answers, and the “other side” isn’t the Devil, just different. And, there whole concept of the “other” side is utterly false anyhow – some ways because they’re the same, other ways because there are a lot more than two “sides”, depending on issue and perspective.
I realize this is “hard”. You have to think, analyze, judge, totally ignore the party labels, slogans, propaganda, and “memes” (dammit those pictures-with-text are NOT MEMES, Dawkins would damn you if he believed in such things, and he created the term!) But keeping a Representative Democracy as the system of government in our Constitutional Federal Republic is hard too. (Please, if you’re one of those “We’re not a democracy, we’re a republic” types, just go away if you can’t learn. We’re both. “It’s not the sky, it’s blue” is what you’re saying when you say that, and yes, you sound just as idiotic. “Direct democracy” is just one type of democracy. And there are plenty of tyrannical republics with no representative governance at all. Learn!)
TL;DR (assuming you already got this far): Universal health and education. Easier private gun ownership but with more training, background checks, and registration. Stop all the Congressional nonsense like the filibuster, “Hastert Rule”, “Thurmond Rule” where bills and nominations can get blocked by a minority. Make marriage any combination of any number of consenting adult men and/or women of any orientation, under basic civil contract and partnership law with nothing special about it. Define “Natural-born Citizen”. Create the “Schwartenegger Amendment” exception. End tax benefits for religions. Corporations are NOT people, my friend. Oh, and I ban all the damn “flag pins” worn by politicians to create overblown patriotism. And mandate the Metric System, right away!
I’ve tried to keep these at the high-level of what should be in a Constitutional Amendment, rather than into the weeds of details that are best left to specific laws enabling said principles.
Ready for the specifics?
Here we go, “Mark’s Prescription for a Better America!” (United States thereof subset, but using “Murica” because, US politics!)
Proposed US Constitutional Amendments
After ratifying the long-delayed Equal Rights Amendment, of course. Let’s assume that will be 29, so we’ll start with Amendment 30.
Amendment 30 Congressional Term Limits
No person shall hold elected office in the House of Representatives for more than 8 years total, whether such terms are consecutive or separate. Partial terms filled by appointment or special election shall not count against this 8 year total if the time served under that special appointment or special election is less than 1 year.
No person shall hold elected office in the US Senate for more than 12 years total, whether such terms are consecutive or separate. Partial terms filled by appointment or special election shall not count against this 12 year total if the time served under that special appointment or special election is less than 2 years.
Amendment 31 Lifetime All-elected-offices Term Limits
To ensure our Republic remains one governed by citizens rather than by professional politicians, No person shall hold elected Federal office of any sort, in any combination of offices in the US House of Representatives, the US Senate, as Vice President, or as President, for more than a consecutive 20 years nor for more than 24 years in a lifetime. Time spent in office in the House or the Senate under special appointment or special election shall not be counted, if it would not be counted under Amendment 30 for purposes of eligibility for those offices.
Time spent in appointive Federal Office at the Cabinet level or no more than one level down (Undersecretary or similar) shall be counted at 50 percent.
Time spent in elective office at State levels such as State Senator, State Representative, shall not be counted, unless said person has held State-level elected office for at least 12 years. After 12 years of State elected-officeholding, each additional year of State elected office-holding shall be counted at 50 percent.
(Examples: a) Two terms in the House for 4 years, a full two 6-year terms in the Senate, and two 4-year terms as President are allowed, but not without a total of 4 years not in Federal office. b) Two terms in the Senate for 12 years, 8 years as Vice President, but then only a one-term Presidency allowed, and that only if there has been a total of 4 years not in any Federal office.)
Amendment 32 Supreme Court Vacancies
If a vacancy occurs in the Supreme Court at any time during a Presidential Term, before the first of September immediately before the next Presidential Election, the President must appoint a candidate for replacement within one month. The Senate must effectively carry out its duties to advise and consent to such appointment, including bringing the nomination to a floor up-or-down confirmation vote no later than two months from the date the President delivers the nomination to the Senate.
For vacancies after that date, the President may nominate a replacement and the Senate may consider the nominee for confirmation, but neither the President nor the Senate shall be obligated to do so, respecting the limited time left in the current Presidential term and current Congress.
For vacancies before that date, failure to appoint by the President, or failure to bring to a floor up-or-down vote by the Senate, shall be an impeachable offense against the officeholder(s) on the grounds of not carrying out their Constitutional duty faithfully.
Amendment 33 Supreme Court Term Limits
In order to ensure that the highest Court of the Land does reflect the will of the People, but still is not directly tied to immediate political issues, Supreme Court appointments, whether as an Associate Justice, Chief Justice, or any combination thereof, shall be for a maximum of 25 years or until mandatory retirement at age 75, whichever comes first.
Amendment 34 Voting Procedures
a) All elections in the United States, for all levels of office (Federal, State, County, Municipal, and any other special election districts including but not limited to school districts, water districts, quasi-municipal business improvement districts) shall occur only on Sunday. Federal elections shall be on the first Sunday of November and otherwise on the schedule specified by law.
b) All elections in the United States must have a 4-week early-voting period, including having at least 3 other weekend days both Saturday and Sunday, and two weekdays each week, and at least one early voting day with voting hours lasting until 11:59pm and another with voting hours beginning no later than 1:00 am, with all early voting days having at least 12 consecutive open hours for voting. At least 80 percent of the early voting hours must be during the 8:00 am to 6:00 pm time period, notwithstanding the requirement for early and late-hours voting days.
c) No elections in the United States may be conducted by any computerized or electronic voting method unless there is a visible printed paper verification provided in secret to the voter at the moment of voting, and also a simultaneous paper vote audit log updated and printed, without identification of the voter. Processing and buffering and batching delays may not take longer than one minute after each vote before printing to the audit log.
d) All elections in the United States may be voted by a mail-in ballot. States and appropriately devolved voting authorities such as county election boards, if they control elections at all levels, may choose to eliminate all in-person voting and use only mail-in voting.
e) There shall be no charge for postage for any mail-in ballots, both from the election authority to the voter and from the voter to the election authority. Nor any charge for voter registration or registration change mail in either direction.
f) Actively deployed military members and all overseas US citizens whether civilian or military, shall be able to obtain and return their ballots by electronic means, including secure websites, fax, and email.
g) Voter registration including updates and changes of party affiliation shall be possible up to at least 15 days before the election in which the registration would affect. States and devolved voter authorities may choose to allow closer-in deadlines, including day-of-election, but are not required to do so.
Amendment 35 Corporations and similar associations are not People
Respecting the rights of free speech and free association of the First Amendment, those rights are clarified to be individual rights, in terms of making political statements, contributions, petitioning for redress of grievances, and other activities often considered as lobbying the government. Each individual who is is part of any ownership, membership, or affiliation with any corporation, association, trade union, guild, organization, whether for profit or not-for-profit, has an individual right to all such free speech and free association and petitioning for redress of grievances, including the right to associate with other individuals. But the aggregated organization of any of said or similar types, does not itself have any such free speech, free association, nor petitioning rights, even if for other purposes it may be considered a “legal person” or a “corporate person”.
For purposes of any rights expressed in the First Amendment, corporations, and similar types of associations, are not people. This includes any expressions of religion. The individuals of the organization are free to practice their individual religious preferences or no religion, and be free from discrimination based on faith or no faith. The organization itself cannot have any religious expression.
Amendment 36 Public Funding of all elections.
Elections for public office in the United States shall only be funded by a public election campaign fund. Taxpayers may choose whether or not to direct some of their taxes to it on their tax return. Private payment of political advertising, whether by a candidate or her or his supporters, or by any other group, association, or political action committee, is hereby banned. Candidates may not opt-out of receiving public funding in order to use private funds for campaigning.
Amendment 37 Right to keep and bear arms is an individual right
a) The right to keep and bear arms is an individual right of all citizens, for any lawful purpose, with no requirement that the citizen be part of any organized or regulated militia. The regulated militia preface of the Second Amendment is to be understood as giving one of the many reasons why the United States benefits from its citizens having the right to keep and bear arms, but not as a prescriptive or restrictive measure limited the reasons for such.
b) Self-defense of life, and defense of others’ lives, is among many reasons for keeping and bearing arms. It is not the only reason, and no authority shall require any proof of danger as any reason for a citizen claiming her or his right to keep and bear arms for self-defense and defense of others.
c) Federal and State governments, and Counties, but no lower level of authority, may create training and background check requirements for exercise of this right. Beyond criminal and medical restrictions, and those only with a due process right to appeal, all permits and other items shall be “must-issue”, in that the authority must permit the citizen to keep and bear arms. Police departments, municipalities, States and other authorities are explicitly forbidden to use any other reasons or any personal discretion.
d) Registration of firearms purchases shall not be considered any violation of this Amendment nor of the Second Amendment.
e) Reasonable and necessary training requirements and re-training or proficiency requirements shall not be considered any violation of this Amendment nor of the Second Amendment.
f) Any citizen shall have a cause of action against the government, if a “background check” or other issuance or purchase requirement, takes longer than 24 hours regardless of holidays, if said citizen suffers any damages or injury to self that might have been prevented or mitigated if she or he had been allowed to purchase, keep, and bear said firearm(s) in a timely manner.
g) Restrictions on firearms ownership and right to keep and bear arms shall only be based upon due process, and are forbidden to be based on any secret or administrative lists, such as but not limited to “watch lists”, “no-fly lists”, “terrorism lists”.
Amendment 38 Healthcare is a universal right.
Promoting the General Welfare being a core principle of this Constitution, and Health being a requirement to be able to enjoy the blessings of Liberty and to Pursue Happiness, All persons legally resident in the United States, citizens, permanent residents, and legal immigrants in the process of obtaining permanent legal residency, have a right to affordable healthcare. Congress may make such laws as necessary to provide a system of universal healthcare, which may include choices of private care, non-profit associations including but not limited to religious associations, cooperatives, and for-profit plans, as long as a US-government run tax-funded Medicare-for-all” plan is a baseline plan.
Amendment 39 Education is a universal right.
Promoting the General Welfare being a core principle of this Constitution, and education being inherent in such, promoting and aiding in Education is a universal right, and is hereby enumerated as one of the responsibilities of the Federal Government, including the existence of a Cabinet-level Department of Education.
Kindergarten though grade-12 education shall be provided at no cost to all children of those grade levels who are citizens, legal permanent residents, persons in the process of obtaining legal permanent residency, or persons legally present under temporary work visas or immediate family members of such.
Eduction policy can be devolved to State and local levels, but under the oversight and direction and nationwide curriculum basic minimums as established by the Department of Education.
Cost-sharing, voucher payments, and other public-private arrangements for education are allowed if enacted by Congress and by the States under devolved authorities.
Amendment 40 Higher Education and/or job training is a universal right
An educated and constantly developing populace being necessary to promote the General Welfare, up to four years of university-level (baccalaureate) education or up to four years of post-high-school vocational training, is a universal right of all citizens, legal permanent residents, and persons in the process of legal permanent residents. There is no obligation to extend this right to persons on legal temporary work visas or immediate family members thereof, but Congress is not prohibited from so doing.
Amendment 41 Metric (S.I.) System of measurements.
To ensure United States competitiveness and participation in the global marketplace and sciences, the so-called “Metric” system of measurement, the S.I. System, shall be the only legal and customary system of weights and measures of volume, weight, distance, temperature, and all other aspects it covers, within two years from the ratification of this Amendment. It shall become illegal to use the “English” or “Customary” system of measurement after that date, in education or commerce at any level, except for historical purposes. Congress may set out laws allowing the “Customary” system’s restricted use for purposes such as historical use, antique machinery, and similar, but may not enact any law returning the “Customary” system to everyday usage.
Amendment 42 Excesses of Patriotism
Because our history and that of the world has shown that an unthinking excess of Patriotism can lead to Tyranny, the following types of expressions of so-called “Patriotism” are hereby immediately banned:
a) Any display of the United States flag or anything that would be considered any derivation of said flag, on any article of clothing, jewelry, adornment, decoration, worn on the person or a person’s attire, unless it is an official part of that person’s Military uniform, while currently serving in the Military or for specific events honoring the Military where a veteran might wear her or his old uniform that includes the flag.
b) Explicitly banned are all “lapel pins” or similar decorations worn by any elected officeholder or any candidate for any elected office, at any level of government.
c) More than one United States flag on any podium or stage or other location where an elected official, or a candidate for election, for any level of office, is appearing. One US flag is allowed, anything more is not.
d) Flag-themed clothing, whether promoting or criticizing the United States or for any other reason.
e) Any display of the United States Flag or any derivation of it that is not explicitly permitted by a “United States Flag Code” or similar enacted into law by the Congress and President.
f) Nothing in this Amendment part c) bans an appropriate display of other flags, such as of a municipality, county, State, or foreign country when in that country or if a dignitary of that country is on the same stage or podium at that same event, or of the United Nations. as long as the “one flag” rule is applied per issuer-of-flag.
Amendment 43 Natural-born Citizen
For purposes of Presidential and Vice-Presidential eligibility, both officeholders must be a Natural-born Citizen. Natural-born Citizen refers to any person who has US Citizenship at birth, by any theory or method of right-at-birth to such citizenship, whether or not they were registered at birth as having such citizenship, as long as they have not renounced US citizenship. Children born outside the USA to any US citizen parent, whether father or mother, whether both parents or only one parent were US citizens at the time, whether or not the were registered or otherwise noted as being US citizens on their birth documents, are Natural-born Citizens for purposes of Presidential and Vice-Presidential eligibility.
Amendment 44 Presidential Eligibility Exception for Distinguished Naturalized Citizens.
A person who has been a Naturalized US Citizen for at least 25 years, and who has served in elected or appointed office with distinction under the United States or one of its States, or as the CEO or chair of a major business, may petition the Congress for a declaration of Presidential Eligibility. This shall also apply to Vice-Presidential Eligibility. Upon a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress, said Citizen shall be declared to have Presidential Eligibility with the same rights to run for and be elected as President or Vice President, as has a Natural-born Citizen.
Amendment 45 Renunciation of Citizenship
The right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness implicitly requiring that a person be able to reject their US citizenship if that is what they so choose, the right to irrevocably renounce US citizenship shall not be infringed. Nor shall it be unreasonably restricted, nor shall there be any retroactive or punitive fees or taxation, nor should any processing charge be more than the inflation-adjusted price of Fifty Dollars as of the time of ratification of this Amendment. No more than two visits to a US embassy, consulate, or other official office shall be required, and no more than 3 months total time from initial request to completion shall be permitted.
Amendment 46 Taxation of US Income only
a) United States Citizens shall be taxed only on their income attributable to employment, business ownership, active and passive investments, and other economic activity, within the United States of America and its territories and possessions. Any laws or regulations imposing global taxation of US citizen on non-US earnings and/or assets are hearby repealed and any such laws are prohibited.
b) Any and all laws and regulations requiring, requesting, or attempting to influence other countries to report on the financial status and/or activities of US citizens or other US persons, are hereby repealed and any such laws are are prohibited.
Amendment 47 Senate banned from using “filibuster”
All votes in the US Senate, whether in committees, subcommittees, special subsets of the Senate, or on the Senate floor, including votes to bring a bill or other business to the full Senate, shall be by majority vote only, unless a supermajority is explicitly required by this Constitution as amended. The procedures of “filibuster”, of “courtesy hold”, of “blocking” bills, nominations, treaties, or other business, from moving forward to a majority-vote, is hereby banned.
Amendment 48 House banned from using “Hastert rule”
All votes in the US House of Representative, whether in committees, subcommittees, special subsets of the House, or on the House floor, including votes to bring a bill or other issue to full House, shall be by majority vote only. The policy of only moving business forward if it has the support of a majority of the majority party, even if it otherwise would have a majority of the entire House, is hereby banned.
Amendment 49 Taxation of Religious organizations.
The First Amendment providing both freedom of religion and freedom from any special treatment or promotion of religion, any tax exceptions, discounts, or preferential treatment for taxation, of any religious organization, association, practitioner, or business owned by such, is hereby banned at all levels of government in the United States, including State, County, local, and any other taxing districts. Religious groups shall be treated the same as any other institution for purposes of taxation. The government shall not be involved in deciding what is and is not a valid religion nor a religious purpose, and laws shall not be based upon any such designation.
Amendment 50 Marriage is a civil contractual arrangement.
The right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness, along with the promotion of the general welfare, and the right of free association being enshrined in this Constitution, the right of adults of any gender, sexual orientation, or other attributes, to define what is a family by their beliefs, shall not be infringed. Government at all levels shall not be involved in determination of what is or is not, “marriage”. Government at all levels may make appropriate laws that provide for proper support, protection, education, and welfare of minor children, but may not base such laws on any religious or philosophical belief or dogma.
Nothing in this Amendment prevents members of religious organizations from defining marriage according to their own religious beliefs, as long as no such attempt is made to enshrine their concept of marriage into laws affecting others. No member of the clergy or other religious practitioner has any legal rights to create any legal framework or contract, but neither are they restricted from celebrating or solemnizing the existence of such arrangement within their religious framework. Any actual legal creation or change or dissolution of a marriage shall occur only via existing partnership contract law and via civil authorities.
Any number of adult persons, of any gender or orientation, may be included in anyone defines as marriage.
All issues of taxation, property ownership and division, and other matters, shall be handled under the concepts of existing civil partnership law, in the same manner that any other organization that was not defined as “marriage” would be handled.