Our League agreed on many policy elements in forming its consensus on the national Constitutional Amendment Study. Here it is, as it was filed electronically with LWVUS after LWVBAE Board approval, Constitutional Amendment Consensus Response from LWVBAE.
The Consensus included a list of criteria or considerations that should be features of a well-crafted amendment, for example, that the public policy issue should be of “acute and abiding importance,” “should be effective in reaching its policy objective,” “should make our political system more democratic or protect individual rights,” and “can’t be reached by legislative or other methods.”
The Consensus paid particular attention to the second way of amending the Constitution–one that has never been used since the Constitution and Bill of Rights were adopted–a Constitutional Convention. The Constitution doesn’t give much detail about the rules that would govern calling for a convention or holding one–so this would be a particularly risky way to amend the Constitution, because a convention called for one purpose might “run-away” and propose drastic changes in the Constitution. A check on such a result would be that the the Constitution does provide that the convention would have to be proposed by two-thirds of the state legislatures and the convention’s proposals would have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
A Congressional proposal approved by two-thirds of each house of Congress is the more usual method. The Congress has considered such amendments only when the legislatures of two-thirds of the states have requested consideration of a particular amendment. The Equal Rights Amendment is an example of an proposed amendment that failed by one state to get the 2/3 approval that would have brought it to Congress for consideration. Below are links to lists of successful and failed amendments.
Why a League study on the process of constitutional amendment? A fix for Citizen’s United? Some opponents of the Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision think a constitutional amendment is the way to overturn that decision. The League of Women Voters is an opponent of Citizen’s United, but has no policy position about using a constitutional amendment as a tool to get desired changes. So the LWVUS needs policy positions in place to help it evaluate any constitutional amendment, using either possible amendment process, that may be proposed. This could include an amendment to cancel Citizen’s United, or an amendment to require a balanced federal budget, or to ban abortion. A list of constitutional amendments that have been proposed and have been adopted can be found in the links below. Many of the background readings for the study are also very enlightening.
The League is a grassroots organization: Members make the policy decisions. So many local Leagues around the country are currently doing this short study on the processes and issues surrounding any Constitutional Amendment. The national League will combine all the reports from local leagues to arrive at a final policy that will be adopted by the national board and confirmed at the next national convention.
The consensus reached by all local leagues about these issues will not answer the Citizen’s United question directly–but will give the national League the policy guidelines to apply to any proposal for a constitutional amendment.
LWVBAE League members participating in the Consensus meeting on Nov. 10 reached agreement on most of the policy questions posed by LWVUS. LWVBAE members participating were: Cynthia Chen, Deborah Malbec, Helene Lecar and Nancy Bickel. In photo below, Deborah is visible at end of table; others are at her left. Oakland League member Bonnie Hamlin presents to Oakland and BAE members.Photo by Helen Hutchison.
The issues turned out to be more interesting and complicated than you might imagine. Click on the following titles for background materials:
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