Amending the Constitution: A Civics Test Americans Need to Pass

Democracy watchdogs must stand firm against conservative attempts to hijack how the country’s founding document evolves.

August 28, 2017

Cross-posted from The American Prospect

During this unsettled time in our nation’s history, the durability of our constitutional democracy is being tested in unprecedented ways. The bizarre events unfolding daily turn some of the most well-known constitutional provisions on their heads, and put rarely invoked ones in the national spotlight. For better or for worse—but mostly for worse—the current political scene compels us to brush off our civics textbooks to better understand these threats.

In less than a year, the rolling drama of Donald Trump’s presidency has given rise to unprecedented assaults on the Constitution. After Charlottesville and Phoenix, interest in the Constitution’s procedures for removing officers, including the president, whether through Article I impeachment proceedings or even the 25th Amendment, has reached a crescendo. The vast web of conflicts of interest among administration officials has brought new attention to the Emoluments Clause, an obscure constitutional provision until very recently. Article III, which calls for a strong, independent judiciary, is an important pillar in the separation of powers doctrine. Yet President Trump has questioned its legitimacy through repeated ad hominem attacks on federal judges and the bedrock principle of judicial review. Similarly, his ongoing assaults on the integrity of the Fourth Estate and the reputations of individual journalists threaten to undermine the First Amendment’s guarantee of a robust press.

Another provision in the crosshairs is Article V, which lays out the process for amending the Constitution. To say that it’s infrequently used would be a gross understatement. In the 230 years that our national charter has been in existence, it has been amended only 27 times; 10 times in its first five years alone. Moreover, each amendment came about through the same process: They were proposed by Congress, adopted by two-thirds of both chambers, and then ratified by three quarters of the states.

Read more at The American Prospect

Photo (Flickr/Kim Davies)