U.S. News

12.26.13

The Hottest Constitutional Amendments of 2013

Giving you the actual right to vote joined classics like flag burning on lawmakers’ wishlists this year.

Forty-five years ago, John Lennon was skeptical of those who said they’d “change the Constitution.” A number of congressmen and senators didn’t listen in 2013. Although there have only been two constitutional amendments ratified since the Beatles broke up in 1970 (one of which was originally submitted to the states in 1789 but wasn’t approved until 1992), legislators are still coming up with their own proposals to alter America’s founding document and add what would be the Constitution’s Twenty-Eighth Amendment. Many of these proposals are often duplicative and tied to a news event.  At least a half dozen Democrats have introduced amendments to overturn Citizens United this year alone, and hordes of Republicans introduced amendments in the fall intended to prevent Congress from passing any law that doesn’t apply to itself, a measure targeting provisions of Obamacare that specifically dealt with legislators and their staffers. But those are boring and mundane—here are five that are a lot more exciting:

GIVE GUAM THE VOTE

There are over 4 million U.S. citizens who can’t vote for president. Residents of U.S. territories like Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands do not have electoral votes (let alone a voting member of Congress). H.J.Res.7 introduced by Delegate Donna Christian-Christiensen of the Virgin Islands would theoretically remedy this by enshrining into the Constitution the principle that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote in  the election for President and Vice President shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of residency in a territory or commonwealth of the United States.” This amendment isn’t going anywhere in Congress but it doesn’t mean Guam will have no voice in deciding who the next president is. Territories participate in presidential primaries and elect delegates to the Democratic and Republican conventions.

LET THE PRESIDENT HAVE UNLIMITED TERMS

So, don’t worry, getting rid of Prohibition was the Twenty-First Amendment. The Twenty-Second Amendment introduced term limits for the presidency. In the wake of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s unprecedented four terms, Congress decided to codify the traditional two-term maximum that presidents had served since George Washington. Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) has introduced H.J.Res.15 to repeal the Twenty-Second Amendment and let presidents run for as many terms as they’d like. This is not Serrano’s first go-round with this amendment, which he has repeatedly introduced over the years with little success. But he’s not the only member of Congress to suggest this idea, which has been discussed, on and off, since the two-term limit came into effect in 1951. In 1995, Mitch McConnell introduced his own resolution to repeal the Twenty-Second Amendment in the Senate. He attracted only one co-sponsor, Harry Reid. Since then, the two senators have had less success finding common ground.

DON’T TREAD ON THE AMERICAN FLAG

The dream of the 90s isn’t just alive in Portland, Oregon, it’s going strong in Congress too. Flag burning was once, pardon the pun, the “hot” social issue on Capitol Hill. Throughout the 1990s and into the Bush administration, a constitutional amendment to allow Congress to prohibit desecration of the American flag regularly came within a handful of votes in the Senate of being submitted to the states for ratification. The push to do so came after the Supreme Court ruled that flag burning was an activity protected by the First Amendment in two separate decisions in 1989 and 1990. But while this issue may have fallen off the political radar, an amendment to give Congress the power “to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States “ has been introduced in both the House as H.J.Res.47 by Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) and the Senate as S.J.Res.17 by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT).  Both Bachus and Hatch have garnered more than 20 co-sponsors apiece—-in the House, the co-sponsors range from hardcore Tea Partier Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) to openly gay Democrat Mike Michaud (D-ME)—-it’s not likely to get a vote anytime soon.

KEEP AMERICAN LAW AMERICAN

Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) is worried about the takeover of foreign law. That’s why he introduced H.J.Res.54, which would invalidate any court decision based on “international laws, treaties, or religious laws.” While this protects United States from the omnipresent threat of Sharia law, it also would present some awkward constitutional problems. Article VI, Section 2 of the Constitution proclaims “all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” Further, with the pesky issue of international law, one of the enumerated powers of Congress under Article I, Section 8, gives Congress the authority “to define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations.” In a statement released on September 17, 2013 to mark Constitution Day, Culbertson explained the urgency of this measure, which “will ensure that all court opinions and findings are based only on the laws of this country, and do not rely in whole or in part on international laws, treaties, or religious laws. In 2003, the Supreme Court declared Texas’s anti-sodomy statute unconstitutional. In reaching their decision, the Court relied on international law citing cases from Cyprus, Britain, and Ireland.” In fact, the Court mentioned these cases in passing and relied on the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

GIVE YOU THE ACTUAL RIGHT TO VOTE

The Constitution gives Americans a variety of rights, ranging from the right to trial by jury to the right not to quarter troops in their homes. It does not explicitly convey a right to vote, however. This has been a point of outrage for liberals for years.  In 2013, the effort to pass this amendment is being led by freshman Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) as H.J.Res.44.. In past years, Jesse Jackson Jr. had been the leader of this effort but his resignation and subsequent criminal conviction for fraud has removed him from the fray. The amendment is not likely to go much of anywhere—-at least in part because many already think that every citizen of voting age already has

“the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.”