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Saturday, March 10, 2012

What Will We Make of It?

On April 26, 1777, while serving in the Continental Congress and fretting over the war-at-hand, John Adams took some time to write “ his dearest friend” and wife, Abigail.  After pouring out concerns over his health and lack of news from Europe, and lack of replenishment of General Washington’s troops by Massachusetts soldiers, he expressed some deep frustration:

   “Posterity!  You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom!  I hope you will make a good Use of it.  If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”

We are the Posterity to whom Adams spoke so long ago.  And now, we have to ask ourselves: What use will we make of the Constitution?  As if to answer that question, R.B. Bernstein, in The Founding Fathers Reconsidered, had this to say:

   “The Preamble’s statement that the primary purpose of the Constitution was to ‘form a more perfect Union’… suggests the framers’ recognition that the Constitution not only was improving on the Union as defined by the Articles of Confederation, but that both it and the Union were capable of further improvement.  Indeed, during the ratification controversy many supporters of the Constitution invoked the amending process codified in that document’s Article V as a mechanism for repairing defects in the original Constitution.  With this remedy available…the Constitution’s backers described the choice before the American people as between the hope of future good and no hope at all.”

In a 1987 address on the bicentennial celebration of the Constitution, Associate Justice, Thurgood Marshall, declined to share the ‘complacent belief’ that the vision of a ‘more perfect Union’ had already come to pass. 

    “I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever ‘fixed’ at the Philadelphia Convention.  To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government…we hold as fundamental today.”

He then concluded:

   “We will see that the true miracle was not the birth of the Constitution, but its life, a life nurtured through two turbulent centuries of our own making….I plan to celebrate the bicentennial of the Constitution as a living document, including the Bill of Rights and the other amendments protecting individual freedoms and human rights.”

Finally, newly elected President, Barack Obama, in his 2008 election victory speech, put it this way:

   “That’s the true genius of America, that America can change.  Our Union can be perfected.  And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.”

It is in that spirit that I once again present possible amendments to our Constitution in a different format and amended wording than seen in my Blog of June 20, 2010.  Knowing that my language does not always meet a legal level of acceptance, I nonetheless am hopeful that I am capturing the hopes of many Americans that we can change for the better and add to the perfection of the Union.

Thus, I am presenting here amendments that have to do with reform of the electoral process, reform of Congress, enhancement of citizen participation in government and a basic reform of the amendment process itself that allows for the citizenry to initiate constitutional amendments.  In light of the contention over the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, and the subsequent proposals existing for an amendment that would overturn the designation of corporations as individuals with all the rights of individuals, I would say that my approach has been less to do with the personhood of corporations and more to do with the coercive power of corporate and other entities who seek to fashion government and governmental laws and processes to their advantage and control.  This is not to say that the various suggestions for repealing Citizens United in amendments should not be incorporated into my own approach.  They probably should; but I stand firm in my belief that any such amendment should incorporate a restriction of their power to influence elections and governmental operations.

With that said, let me also interject that the latest attempts by radical Republicans to abrogate various rights of women, is reason enough to revive talk of an amendment specifically devoted to women’s rights and issues, in my opinion.  The Equal Rights Amendment with amplifications would seem about right in this poisonous atmosphere, Rush Limbaugh notwithstanding.

Amendments to this Constitution

Section 1.     The Congress, upon direct citizen petition by at least one-fourth of the population of one-third of the several states, or, on passage of ballot propositions in one-half of the several States, shall, in a timely manner, propose such amendments to this Constitution as are contained in said petitions or propositions; or, shall call a convention for proposing such amendments; which amendments shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution when ratified in a manner prescribed by this Constitution.

Section 2.     Members of a Constitutional Convention shall be chosen by special election  in the several states, with the proviso that no more than one-fourth of the delegate nominees may currently hold an elective or appointive government office.  No Delegate nominee shall be associated in any way with paid or compensated lobbying organized for the purpose of influencing governmental legislation or operation at any level.

Section 3.    Congress shall determine the number of Convention delegates allowed from each state, based on each state’s current congressional representation or an equitable proportion thereof.

Election Reform

Section 1.    All campaigns for federal elective Office shall be financed by funds drawn from the Treasury in consequence of appropriations made by law, and by individual citizen contributions, but may not be funded by any corporate or organized entity.

Section 2.    Congress shall set strict limitations for individual contributions, and shall prescribe maximum limits for governmental expenditures allowed for each contested primary or general election for Office.

Section 3.    All campaign materials, including public advertisements, shall be authorized and financed by each candidate, utilizing contributions allowed under Section 1.  No campaign materials or advertisements may be sponsored or financed by a third party, or by any corporate or other organized entity.

Section 4.    Each State shall regulate the campaigns and elections to state and local offices in accordance with the provisions of this amendment.

Section 5.    Congress shall have the power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Abolition of Gifts to Members of Government

Section 1.    No member of the Congress, of the Executive branch, or of the Judiciary shall solicit, accept or receive any compensation, special privilege, emolument, gift, in-kind contribution, or any other form of contribution from any individual, corporation or organized entity, for personal, official or elective purposes, or as an incentive to influence the outcome of particular legislation, oversight function, committee process, regulation, contract or judiciary decision.

Section 2.    Any member of government found to be in violation of this provision shall be removed from currently held office, and shall be ineligible to seek any elective or appointive governmental office in the future.

Section 3.    The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Term Limits

Section 1.    Term of office for members of the House of Representatives shall be limited to four full terms of  three years each, or a cumulative total of twelve years; excepting, that if a member is appointed to fill a term to which some other person was elected, the first year of that partial term shall not be counted toward this total tenure.

Section 2.    No person shall  be elected to the Office of Senator for more than two full terms of six years each, or a cumulative total of twelve years; excepting that, if a person is appointed to fill a term to which some other person was elected, up to two years of that partial term shall not be counted toward this total tenure.

Section 3.    Judges, both of the Supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, but shall not serve for more than a cumulative total of 20 years.

Limitations on the Congress

Section 1.    Neither House of Congress shall make any rule or provision that allows for other than a majority vote on legislation, resolutions, rules of order, Executive appointments, proceedings, or parliamentary procedures, except as ordered by this Constitution.

Section 2.    Members of Congress shall make no provision in, or attached to, any act or bill that appropriates funds to any individual or organization within their own Congressional District or State. 

Section 3.    The House and Senate shall make no Laws that exempt its individual members or employees from application of the provisions of any and all such laws.

Section 4.    For the duration of twelve years after leaving elective Office, no Senator or Representative, nor any of their staff members, shall be allowed to accept any compensation from, or advocate with office holders on behalf of, any organization, association, corporation, union or other entity that seeks to influence any legislation or the legislative process.

    Any former member of Congress found to be in violation of this provision shall be ineligible to seek any elective or appointive governmental office in the future.

Section 5.    The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Citizen Participation

Section 1.    No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published quarterly and made available in formats readily accessible by the citizenry. 

Section 2.    All Federal funds appropriated, contracted, granted, or loaned to any agency, organization, corporate entity, contractor, State or Country shall be audited annually by commissions of private citizens who are not political office-holders. The resultant accounting report to the Congress shall include recommendations for or against continued funding.

Section 3.    Appropriate numbers of non-governmental office-holding Citizens shall be appointed jointly by Congress and the President to every office of Inspector General for the purpose of advising and assisting that Officer in the conduct of inspections, evaluations, and audits of the operations of designated governmental departments, agencies and offices.

Section 4.    Similar groups of citizens shall be jointly appointed by Congress and the President as permanent Advisory Councils to each department, agency, and office of government, for the purpose of advising on all aspects of the operation of those entities.  Such advice shall be regularly solicited and given due consideration by all heads of said government agencies.  In addition, each Council shall make an annual report of their activities and concerns to the Congress and the President.  Advisory Council Members may serve for no longer than six years.

Section 5.     Enumeration and drawing of Congressional districts shall be undertaken by Commissions composed of citizens currently holding neither elective nor appointive office; to be elected as State law shall direct, except that no Commissioner may serve more than two terms.  

Section 6.    The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.