“Our Imbecilic Constitution”

In the late 18th century debate over ratification of the new U.S. Constitution, the authors of “The Federalist Papers” mocked the “imbecility” of the weak central government created by the Articles of Confederation.

Now in the early 21st century we the People of the U.S. need to recognize that our federal Constitution is “imbecilic.” This is the contention of Sanford Levinson, Professor of Law and Government at the University of Texas, Austin, in a post entitled “Our Imbecilic Constitution” that was published in the May 29th issue of the New York Times.

Levinson argues that the U.S. Constitution plays a major role in generating the current dysfunctional U.S. governmental system. He begins his critique “with the Senate and its assignment of equal voting power to California and Wyoming; Vermont and Texas; New York and North Dakota. Consider that, although a majority of Americans since World War II have registered opposition to the Electoral College, we will participate this year in yet another election that ‘battleground states’ will dominate while the three largest states will be largely ignored.”

Levinson also recommends making it easier to amend the U.S. Constitution. This could include a debate on allowing amendments by voters at the ballot box.

Other possible topics for debate, he says, include (a) allowing a newly elected president to appoint 50 members of the House of Representatives and 10 to the Senate; (b) requiring a super-majority (say seven of nine) of the Supreme Court Justices to invalidate national legislation; and (c) changing the way in which federal judges are selected.

This article strikes some of the same criticisms of the U.S. Constitution as one of my posts.

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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

6 thoughts on ““Our Imbecilic Constitution””

  1. Comment: Questioning the Power of the U.S. Supreme Court

    The recent attention to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Affordable Care Act has prompted Burton Caine, a professor at Temple University Law School, to question the power of the Court over the democratically elected Congress and President.

    He says that the most “obvious solutions require amending the Constitution, which is difficult. Justices have life tenure, and it would require an amendment to impose term limits.” I think that is an overstatement. As a prior Comment points out, the Constitution in Article III, Section 1 only says that federal judges shall hold office during “their good behavior.”

    Caine also says legislation “limiting the power of judicial review is likely be declared unconstitutional.” I agree.

    He raises some other possible responses that have been discussed in Comments to this post. Congress could change the number of justices or give a newly elected president the power to appoint an additional justice.

    Caine, Invitation to a Dialogue: Power of the Justices, N.Y. Times (July 2, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/03/opinion/invitation-to-a-dialogue-power-of-the-justices.html?ref=opinion&pagewanted=print.

  2. Comment: The Founders of U.S. Constitution Are Not Quasi-Religious Prophets

    To celebrate the Fourth of July, E.J. Dionne reminds us that the Founders of the U.S. Constitution were not “quasi-religious prophets who produced a text more like the Bible or the Talmud.”
    Instead the Constitution is “a governing document that was the product of compromises and arguments,” and its authors “had “no special divine insight into politics” and were “as enmeshed in historical circumstances as we are.”

    Therefore, he says, “[w]e do a disservice to ourselves and the Founders alike if we take them out of history and demand that they settle arguments that we ought to settle on our own.”

    Dionne, The Founders’ True Spirit, Wash. Post (July 4, 2012), http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ej-dionne-jr-the-founders-true-spirit/2012/07/04/gJQAiQq7NW_print.html.

  3. Comment: U.S. Needs Constitutional Changes

    Sanford Levinson, a professor of law and government, notes a significant number of today’s Americans distrust our national government. He asserts that the U.S. Constitution itself is partially responsible and suggests we need to have a national conversation on making fundamental changes to the document.

    Levinson, Freedom: Not Just Another Word, StarTribune (July 4, 2012), http://www.startribune.com/opinion/ commentaries/ 161287585.html.

    Levinson is the holder of a named Chair in Law at the University of Texas Law School and a Professor in the Department of Government at the University of Texas (http://www.utexas.edu/law/faculty/svl55/).

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