How Do We Amend the Constitution?

Click here to download the Constitutional Amendment Study Guide.NovLeagueDayFlyer

Click here to download the Constitutional Amendment Study Guide.

Photos are here

Women’s City Club, Pasadena
November 5

“You have now thought more about amending the Constitution than anyone else in this country, and you now know more about the process than just about anyone,” Chris Carson told participants at the November 5 League Day meeting.

Carson, a retired professor of government, is a longtime active member of LWV at every level, and she was able to articulate the issues raised by each question with pertinent facts and examples. The participants reacted thoughtfully and knowledgeably, with intelligent and informed questions. However, Chris told them, “This Constitutional Amendment Study is really about your opinion, rather than about right or wrong.”

Carson explained that the League likes to think well into the future, and it wants to be prepared for a variety of eventualities, and that is why they are conducting this study now. The League is aware that there are possibilities of amendments in the future. Some of these may require a Constitutional Convention, if two thirds of the states call for one, but unfortunately, the Constitution itself does not spell out the guidelines for such a Convention. For example,

• How would delegates to such a Convention be chosen—by popular vote? If so, would they have to mount campaigns? Should the delegates be appointed by the governor because of expertise? Should each state choose its own method?

• How transparent should the proceedings of a Convention be? Should private negotiations be allowed, or should every word be made public?

• Should the allocation of delegates be based on population, or should each state have the same number of delegates? What are the ramifications of either course?

• Should voting at the convention be by individual delegates or by states?

• Should the Convention be limited to one topic, or should the delegates be allowed to bring up issues, or even amend other parts of the Constitution, which were not part of the original reason for the Convention?

• Should the League oppose an Article V Constitutional Convention because of unresolved questions about the powers and processes of such a convention?

These are thorny questions, and members were visibly grappling with them.

Another problem we were asked about was, what criteria does the League use when deciding whether or not to consider a proposed amendment?

• Is the issue so important that the Constitution should be changed?

• Would the amendment be effective, or would it be unenforceable, or would it have to be interpreted by the courts and legislatures? Is that “looseness” desirable?

• Should a factor in deciding to consider an amendment be whether or not it makes our political system more democratic or protective of individual rights?

• Would the objective be more easily achieved through legislation or policy, rather than through the more difficult process of an amendment?

• Is the objective more suited to a general, Constitutional article, or would a statutory approach, which is more detailed and prescriptive, be a better approach?

Participants responded to the study questions, and their answers were tallied and presented to the Board on November 11. The results, which are the “consensus” of LWV-PA, will be sent to the national LWV before December 1. The participants realized how important it is to think about study issues and to be part of the process of formulating national policies. They also enjoyed a really good lunch while talking about the questions raised by the study.

—Martha Giffen