Amending the Constitution

CLP Current Event: September 11, 2018

Celebrate Constitution Day with a look at the process of creating and amending the U.S. Constitution using this week’s CLP Current Event. 

In thinking about the Constitution, the process of creating it and amending it demonstrates that democracy is a creative struggle. Looking at the words of the Preamble as our goals, the “how” becomes important and challenging.

Brought to teachers by Susie Marcus, CLP consultant, with CLP staff.

News Sources

Think the U.S Constitution ‘Subverts Democracy’? Think Again, by Tom Lindsay, Forbes, August 28, 2018
“Ensuring passage of all amendments by nationally distributed majorities was deemed by the Founders to be indispensable to guaranteeing that ‘no amendment could be passed simply with the support of the few states or sections sufficiently numerous to provide a bare majority.’ The Founders hoped and believed that it ‘would be difficult for such a national majority to form or become effective save for the decent purposes that could command national agreement.’”

Proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution seldom go anywhere, by Drew DeSilver, Pew Research Center, April 12, 2018
“Since 1999, in fact, 134 separate balanced-budget amendments have been formally introduced in either the House or Senate, making it the single most popular subject of amendment proposals over that timespan, according to our analysis of legislative data from the Library of Congress.”

The U.S. Constitution Is Very Hard to Amend, by Jay Cost, National Review, April 2, 2018
“This means in turn that our system has a very high ‘status quo bias.’ When the people cannot agree on a change, things remain as they are. This is the main reason the Constitution has so rarely been amended, and that many of the amendments were relatively minor procedural tweaks. There were only three moments of big changes: the Bill of Rights, adopted at the behest of the state ratifying conventions; the Civil War amendments; the Progressive Era amendments. All three instances were points of crisis in the body politic that created a sufficiently broad majority to make big changes.”

The U.S. Constitution: Time for an update?, by Brian Dickerson, Detroit Free Press, March 31, 2018
“In “The Crisis of the Middle Class Constitution,” Vanderbuilt University law professor Ganash Sitaraman argues that the constitution was written by and for Americans who assumed they and their fellow citizens ‘would remain relatively equal economically,’ unlike the nobility and commoners they had left behind in the Old World. So the Framers, who were so careful about providing checks and balances to prevent dominance by one region or branch of government, neglected to provide ‘constitutional structures to manage the clash between the wealthy and everyone else.’”
CLP: Opinion

Don’s Thoughts: The pros and cons of a constitutional convention, by Donald A. Loucks, Statesman, October 9, 2014
“So, what to do about a constitutional republic like the United States? We hear our country referred to as a ‘Democracy’ all the time in the news media. When was the last time you heard it referred to as a Republic? That’s my point. We no longer know any better.”

The U.S. Constitution Is Impossible to Amend, by Eric Posner, Slate, May 5, 2014
“In the 220-plus years since ratification of the Constitution, more than 11,000 amendments have been proposed, but only 27 have been enacted. The first 10 amendments were added immediately to appease critics of the Constitution during the ratification debates. The three critical post–Civil War amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th), which expanded individual rights, are also a special case because the Southern states were coerced into ratifying them. From 1870 to today, only 12 amendments have been enacted.”

Questions to Consider

  • What does the Constitution mean in 2018?
  • What does “amend” mean? Which verb would you choose to enhance the meaning of amend?
  • Should the amending process be altered to encourage change?
  • Is it dangerous to amend the Constitution? Is it necessary to amend the Constitution?
  • Do we need to use the amendment process to improve representative democracy in 2018?
  • Why did the Framers make immediate changes to the Constitution known as the Bill of Rights?
  • Why did the Framers make it difficult to change the Constitution?
  • What amendments have been added to the Constitution? Which amendments changed the course of our history?
  • Why is the 14th amendment considered a landmark amendment?
  • What was the last Amendment to the Constitution (1992)? Do events or issues require us to think about additional amendments ?
  • Which amendment would you choose as the most important?
  • What new amendment would you propose to add?
  • Why is the Oregon Constitution easier to amend than the federal Constitution? Are there concerns that it is too easy to amend? How do multiple amendments affect the body of a Constitution?

Background and More

Amendments 11-27, Bill of Rights Institute

Think the Constitution Will Save Us? Think Again, by Meagan Day and Bhaskar Sunkara, The New York Times, August 9, 2018
“But it’s a problem worth confronting. As long as we think of our Constitution as a sacred document, instead of an outdated relic, we’ll have to deal with its anti-democratic consequences.”
CLP: Opinion

How James Madison Saved the Constitution This Month by Writing the Bill of Rights, by David Azerrad, PhD, The Heritage Foundation, December 28, 2016
“By rechanneling public opposition to the Constitution into acceptance for a Bill of Rights, he staved off the Anti-Federalist attempts to rewrite the Constitution. Madison is therefore rightly viewed as both the father of Constitution and the father of the Bill of Rights.”

Sixteen Good, Bad, and Insane Ideas for a Twenty-Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, by Richard Morgan, The New Republic, August 22, 2013
“Most ideas for new amendments fall into one of two categories: either political amendments, which seek to settle hot-button issues like gay marriage and abortion; or procedural amendments, which seek to change how we practice politics in the United States.”
CLP: Interesting historical take on how and need to amend the Constitution

The top 10 amendments that haven’t made it (yet), by Dr. Steve Frank, Constitution Daily, October 14, 2010

Speech on Amendments to the Constitution, by James Madison, Teaching American History, June 8, 1789
“Having done what I conceived was my duty, in bringing before this house the subject of amendments, and also stated such as I wish for and approve, and offered the reasons which occurred to me in their support; I shall content myself for the present with moving, that a committee be appointed to consider of and report such amendments as ought to be proposed by congress to the legislatures of the states, to become, if ratified by three-fourths thereof, part of the constitution of the United States.”

Lesson Plans

Create a New Amendment, Education World
CLP: Grades 6-8, 9-12

Constitutional Exchanges, The National Constitution Center
CLP: New teaching materials and opportunities to have conversations with other classrooms via videoconferencing.

Interactive Constitution, The National Constitution Center
CLP: Lesson plans and link to download interactive tool

Constitutional Amendments for Kids, Mr. Donn
CLP: Variety of lessons that cover many grade levels

Constitutional and Legal Connections

Text of 14th Amendment,

Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution facts, Kiddle

4 Key Questions About Trump’s and Mueller’s Constitutional Powers, by Fred Lucas, The Daily Signal, June 4, 2018

The constitutional questions: Can Congress stop Trump from firing Mueller, by Joan Biskupic, CNN, April 13, 2018
CLP: Examining separation of powers

Oregon Connections

Constitution of Oregon, Wikipedia

Article XVII, Oregon Constitution, Ballotpedia
CLP: Amending the Oregon constitution

Oregon State Social Science Standards

8.8 Evaluate information from a variety of sources and perspectives.
8.14 Explain rights and responsibilities of citizens.
8.18 Examine and analyze important United States documents, including (but not limited to) the Constitution, Bill of Rights, 13th-15th Amendments.
8.21 Analyze important political and ethical values such as freedom, democracy, equality, and justice embodied in documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
HS.31 Examine and evaluate documents and decisions related to the Constitution and Supreme Court decisions (e.g., Federalist Papers, Constitution, Marbury v. Madison, Bill of Rights, Constitutional amendments, Declaration of Independence)
HS.33 Explain the role of government in various current events.
HS.59 Demonstrate the skills and dispositions needed to be a critical consumer of information.
HS.60. Analyze an event, issue, problem, or phenomenon from varied or opposing perspectives or points of view.

We the People Lesson Connections

Middle School, Level 2

  • Unit 5: How does the Constitution protect our basic rights?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 29: What are the rights and responsibilities of citizenship?

High School, Level 3

  • Unit 3, Lesson 15: How have amendment and judicial review changed the Constitution?
  • Unit 5: What does the Bill of Rights protect?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 34: What is the importance of civic engagement to American constitutional democracy?