Election 2016

Candidate Calls for Constitutional Amendments Are Phony

Don't treat demands for revisions seriously.


U.S. National Archives

How do you know when a presidential candidate is being deceptive? No, silly, not when his or her lips are moving. Candidates often tell the truth—like when they say they want your vote or your money. Moving lips are not a reliable clue. 

So what is? Any statement that envisions an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

Politicians often act as though the Constitution is a sacred text handed down from heaven, like the Bible. Unlike the Bible, though, they have all sorts of recommendations for improving it. These proposals fall into two general categories: hopeless fantasies and pathetic frauds. 

This year, both Republicans and Democrats support revisions of the nation's charter. After the Supreme Court said gay couples have a constitutional right to marry, Ted Cruz said every justice should be subject to a retention election every eight years—junking the life tenure for all federal judges provided by the framers. 

Scott Walker wants an amendment to let states ban same-sex marriage. Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee also said the decision called for altering the Constitution. 

Jeb Bush is against those proposals, but he has his own changes in mind. He favors an amendment to require a balanced federal budget. Rick Perry endorsed that when he ran in 2012. He, Huckabee and Santorum have endorsed an amendment to ban abortion. 

Not that the GOP has a monopoly on such designs. Bernie Sanders is sponsoring a constitutional amendment to override the Supreme Court's rulings on campaign finance and "stop billionaires from buying elections." Hillary Clinton is on board, and so is Martin O'Malley. 

What all these measures have in common is that they have no chance of coming to pass in the foreseeable future, if ever. 

We've already elected a president who supported the Federal Marriage Amendment: George W. Bush. If he couldn't get it through at a time when the citizenry opposed same-sex marriage, a Republican successor is not going to get it through now, in stark defiance of public opinion. 

Supporters may say Bush didn't make much of an effort, which is true but doesn't help their case. He didn't make much of an effort because he knew that trying to get it approved by a super-majority in both houses of Congress, and then winning ratification by three-quarters of the states, would be a waste of time. 

The balanced budget amendment is one of those ideas whose time has come—and gone. Back in the 1970s, there was even a push for states to call a constitutional convention to consider it, which fell short of the 34 needed. 

Ronald Reagan was for the amendment, and so were many Democrats. But it went nowhere. In the 1990s, the need became even less evident when Congress and President Bill Clinton managed to eliminate the budget deficit all by themselves. 

Overriding the Supreme Court's rulings on campaign finance regulation is even harder to imagine. In the first place, it would require a lot of ordinary people to demand action on a subject they understand only dimly. In the second, it would face concerted and well-funded opposition from the very interests that supposedly are empowered by the status quo. 

The logic of the supporters undermines the plausibility of their strategy. If Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers can use their fortunes to prevent the election of candidates they dislike, why couldn't they prevent a constitutional amendment they reject? Passing the amendment, on the other hand, would prove it isn't needed, by dramatizing the weakness of moneyed interests. 

In any case, it's not going to happen, if only because Republicans, who are universally opposed, are so dominant at the state level. After the 2014 elections, the GOP held legislative control in 30 states. Given their huge disadvantage, Democrats might as well try to land a kite on the moon. 

Endorsing a constitutional amendment is a way of evading useful action, often because there is nothing to be done. Rather than admit defeat on a matter that is important to some voters, candidates try to gull them with solutions they know are bogus. 

No one should be fooled. As Mark Twain might say if he were still around today, there are three kinds of falsehoods: Lies, damned lies and constitutional amendments. 

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Amending the Constitution is too much work for politicians, anyway. Did you even see the movie Lincoln? They couldn’t get away with that shit today. Plus it seems pretty damn easy to get away with ignoring the checks the Constitution puts on them, so why bother trying to remove those checks officially?

    1. Why SHOULD we have to amend the Constitution. It is a living, breathing document, that we can reinterpret based on our modern sensibilities. Besides it was written by a bunch of slave-holding, rich, old, white dudes like a hundred years ago. Duh!

  2. Worst non-Slate/Salon journalism I’ve seen of late:
    “Obama said the limits were backed up by decades of data showing that without tough action, the world will face more extreme weather and escalating health problems like asthma….

    The Obama administration previously predicted the emissions limits will cost up to $8.8 billion annually by 2030, although it said those costs would be far outweighed by health savings from fewer asthma attacks and other benefits. The actual price won’t be clear until states decide how they’ll reach their targets.”


    Yes, other benefits. And asthma. We are going to save 8 billion a year reducing asthma attacks. Don’t know what the others are,

    Probably already been mocked on here somewhere, but I like the phrasing of this particular article.

    1. Are you lost perhaps?

  3. I’d be delighted if we had a candidate who was saying he/she would do something about keeping the government within the bounds set out by the Constitution we alread have.

    I know. Dream on.

  4. Why amend when the jackasses in DC don’t even follow the present Constitution.

    1. Yeah, that seems redundant.

  5. “Endorsing a constitutional amendment is a way of evading useful action, often because there is nothing to be done.”

    It’s worse than that – a constitutional amendment is a way to turn away from practical but controversial solutions, in favor of making sympathetic noises to your base.

    The Republicans could always fight to pass a statute leaving marriage cases in the hands of state, not federal courts. This would lead to a knock-down, drag-out fight for which the Reps have no stomach, so they’ll content themselves with talking up constitutional amendments and hoping the base will be dumb enough to be content with that.

    Talking about overruling a 5-4 Supreme Court decision by a constitutional amendment concedes too much. Before challenging 5 retarded lawyers, we need to get the consent of 2/3 of each house of congress plus 3/4 of the states? Heck with that – go into the legislative trenches in search of remedies.

    Now, I happen to think a balanced budget amendment is worth fighting for. It’s not Supreme Court politics, it’s adding a guarantee of liberty and good government. Of course, Congress should balance the budget without an amendment, but they should also respect free speech without an amendment, but we don’t hear calls to repeal the 1st Amendment for that reason (do we?). And of course Congress will try to evade the strictures of any balanced budget amendment, but at least then they can be shamed for violating the Constitution.

    1. Talking about overruling a 5-4 Supreme Court decision by a constitutional amendment concedes too much. Before challenging 5 retarded lawyers, we need to get the consent of 2/3 of each house of congress plus 3/4 of the states?

      No, all that’s needed is for the Congress to pass the law that they want, and then deny the USSC the ability to hear the case — the Constitution says the USSC’s jurisdiction extends to: “In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.”

  6. Steve Chapman distorts reality quite a bit here, attempting to make the argment that passing
    a Constitutional amendment is about as likely as cold fusion. Anyonewho says “never happen”,
    like Steve, can be just as easily disregarded as those he is disregarding. Of course, Steve is an idiot – we have passed amendments many times. We have even passed amendments that revoke amendments. POintless, ridiculous article.

    1. Eh, the point of this article is that it’s hard to impossible to pass controversial amendments. All of the proposed amendments mentioned are controversial, with solid political or public opinion opposition.

      Several amendments were likely controversial at the time — income tax and Prohibition come to mind. But those two were related. Prohibition advocates threw their support behind the income tax in exchange for support for Prohibition (before the income tax amendment, most federal revenue was from alcohol taxes/fees).

      The Civil War Amendments would not have passed if the states most likely to oppose weren’t barred from voting on them.

      1. The Civil War Amendments would not have passed if the states most likely to oppose weren’t barred from voting on them.

        Which is a violation of the Constitution:
        “and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.”

        So then, it must be asked: Are the civil-war amendments valid?

  7. Moving lips are not a reliable clue.

    Close enough for government work.

  8. “…Congress and President Bill Clinton managed to eliminate the budget deficit all by themselves.”
    While things like welfare reform definitely helped (after Clinton vetoed it twice, it was an almost entirely Republican push), there was one thing that got rid of the budget deficit:


    Adjusted Federal spending dropped .0.5% from 92-93, but other than that it went up every year in the 90s.
    I am so sick of hearing about them balancing the budget.

  9. Ah, here’s what I’d be for as amendments: PDF of Draft.

    I think most on here would be for the budgeting amendment, the Senate-reform amendment, and the tax-reform amendment.

    1. I like it. However,

      “Section I: The federal government shall directly subsidize no product or industry whatsoever, saving the promotion of the progress of Science and useful Arts.”

      That’s gonna have to go. You just know that if this were passed (sadly, hypothetically) the feds would “interpret” that section to permit whatever kind of cronyism they want. The Solyndra debacle would be completely Kosher under this amendment.

      Either that, or make it much more clear somehow.

  10. Some 60 to 200+ amendments to the Constitution are offered annually. Some amendments are offered over and over again at each session of Congress.

  11. …”it would require a lot of ordinary people to demand action on a subject they understand only dimly.”

    Two words: net. neutrality.

  12. One other thing to remember. The president’s role in passing a constitutional amendment is pretty much limited to voting for it when it comes up in their home state for ratification.

  13. Hmmm.

    The only amendment I would support is one killing off the political class.

    Term. Limits.

    1. ^^^^^This one.

      We are being slaughtered by a ruling class. It’s why Trump has any traction at all right now (ditto for Carson). They’re both outsiders and right now the electorate would almost vote for anyone over an incumbent.

      We fought a revolution to overthrow lords and dukes and an elite ruling class, only to allow one to entrench itself less than 200 years later. If we have term limits for the President (via Constitutional Amendment, but why let that fact get in the way of the article), I can’t see why it’s all that controversial to think we couldn’t pass term limits Amendments for both houses of Congress.

      I think it would get a TON of support right now. Two terms for Senators (which would get them 12 years) and 8 years for Congressman. That’s enough time to either get something done or go the fuck home. The other ancillary benefits (I think) would include (1) the inability to truly get their graft machines up and running and entrenched; (2) decreased incentives for political lobbying (see #1); (3) forces these assholes to consider life after they leave office, including being subject to the laws they pass.

      I would also consider twenty year terms for federal judiciary. All of them. Same thing. Lifetime appointment is horrible. All kinds of terrible incentives there.

  14. Why would amending the constitution sound like a smart idea when we already ignore the constitution we have? Will we feel better if there is more to ignore?

  15. I wonder how the other amendments were approved if calls for amendments are phony.

    Then, I ponder how the Pat Act and NDAA passed. And some days, I spend time considering why the Federal Reserve exists at all. Or like a couple days ago, perhaps shake my head in disgust at how Indiana just passed a no cell phone talking law, with most of the constituency, including representatives not knowing this. And on, ad nauseam.

    I suggest not ever thinking this process is harmless, or that the process is moral, ethical, lawful, or has any positive value. Especially given the 16th and 17th, as well as the rise of Executive Orders.

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  17. So Chapman, how did all those other amendments ever come to pass?

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