Put simply, we've learned a lot since What was for the Founders a kind of providential revelation—designing, from scratch, a written charter and democratic system at a time when the entire history of life on this planet contained scant examples of either—has been worked into science.
The People's Guide To The United States Constitution, Revised Edition
More than constitutions have been composed since World War II alone, and other countries have solved the very problems that cripple us today. It seems un-American to look abroad for ways to change our sacred text, but the world's nations copied us, so why not learn from them? Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was pilloried when she told Egyptian revolutionaries last year that she "would not look to the U.
Constitution, if I were drafting a constitution in the year Almost nobody uses the U. Constitution as a model—not even Americans. When 24 military officers and civilians were given a single week to craft a constitution for occupied Japan in , they turned to England. The Westminster-style parliament they installed in Tokyo, like its British forebear, has two houses.
But unlike Congress, one is clearly more powerful than the other and can override the less powerful one during an impasse. The story was largely the same in defeated Nazi Germany, and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, which all emerged from American occupation with constitutions that look little like the one Madison and the other framers wrote. They have the same democratic values, sure, but different ways of realizing them. According to researchers who analyzed all constitutions adopted between and , the U. Constitution is rarely used as a model.
What's more, "the American example is being rejected to an even greater extent by America's allies than by the global community at large," write David Law of Washington University and Mila Versteeg of the University of Virginia.
Nancy Pelosi: An Extremely Stable Genius
That's a not a fluke. The American system was designed with plenty of checks and balances, but the Founders assumed the elites elected to Congress would sort things out. They didn't plan for the political parties that emerged almost immediately after ratification, and they certainly didn't plan for Ted Cruz. And factionalism isn't the only problem.
Belgium, a country whose ethnic divisions make our partisan sparring look like a thumb war, was unable to form a governing coalition for days in and Nevertheless, the government stayed open and fulfilled its duties almost without interruption, thanks to a smarter institutional arrangement. As the famed Spanish political scientist Juan Linz wrote in an influential essay , dysfunction, trending toward constitutional breakdown, is baked into our DNA.
Any system that gives equally strong claims of democratic legitimacy to both the legislature and the president, while also allowing each to be controlled by people with fundamentally different agendas, is doomed to fail. America has muddled through thus far by compromise, but what happens when the sides no longer wish to compromise? All of them, without exception, have succumbed to the Linzian nightmare at one time or another, often repeatedly," according to Yale constitutional law professor Bruce Ackerman, who calls for a transition to a parliamentary system. By "Linzian nightmare," Ackerman means constitutional crisis—your full range of political violence, revolution, coup, and worse.
But well short of war, you can end up in a state of "crisis governance," he writes. Worse yet, the contending powers may use the constitutional tools at their disposal to make life miserable for each other: The house will harass the executive, and the president will engage in unilateral action whenever he can get away with it. You can blame today's actors all you want, but they're just the product of the system, and honestly it's a wonder we've survived this long: The presidential election of , a nasty campaign of smears and hyper-partisan attacks just a decade after ratification, caused a deadlock in the House over whether John Adams or Thomas Jefferson should be president.
The impasse grew so tense that state militias opposed to Adams's Federalist Party prepared to march on Washington before lawmakers finally elected Jefferson on the 36th vote in the House. It's a near miracle we haven't seen more partisan violence, but it seems like tempting fate to stick with the status quo for much longer.
How would a parliamentary system handle a shutdown?
It wouldn't have one. In Canada a few years ago, around the same time Washington was gripped in yet another debt-ceiling crisis, a budget impasse in Ottawa led to new elections, where the parties fought to win over voters to their fiscal plan. One side won, then enacted its plan—problem solved.
Most parliamentary systems, which unify the executive and legislative branches, have this sort of fail-safe mechanism. If a budget or other must-pass bill can't get passed, or a prime minister can't be chosen, then funding levels are placed on autopilot and new elections are called to resolve things. The people decide. Arend Lijphart is a political scientist who has spent much of his career trying to answer the fundamental question, "What works best? The most important constitutional provisions that help in this direction is to have a parliamentary system and elections by [proportional representation].
The U. If he had to pick any country whose system we might like to try on for size, he'd pick Germany. Yet it's a nice bicameral federal system for a large country, like ours, but it has a proportional representation parliamentary system. Still, latter-day framers probably won't be able to start from scratch. So how might they remodel? Take the Senate. What started as a compromise to preserve states' rights lost even that pretext with the ratification of the 17th Amendment, which gave the people, and not state legislatures, the right to elect their representatives in the upper chamber.
Today, the Senate is an undemocratic relic where 41 senators, representing just 11 percent of the nation's population, can use the filibuster to block almost anything and bring government to its knees.
The People's Guide to the United States Constitution, Revised Edition on Apple Books
A single voter in Wyoming, a state with a mere , people, has the equivalent representation of 66 Californians unfortunate enough to live in a place with 38 million other people. The two-senator allotment to each state also makes it essentially impossible to change the makeup of the states or admit new ones like the District of Columbia. And the House, of course, isn't a more attractive alternative. Larry Sabato, the ubiquitous and mild-mannered political prognosticator by day, is a radical constitution-rewriter by night.
Sabato's plan would also double the size of the House to make representatives closer to the people and enforces a nonpartisan redistricting process to end gerrymandering. Elections for president, Senate, and House, in Sabato's vision, are rescheduled to coincide more often, while presidents would serve a single, six-year term the idea is to make their governing less political, while giving them enough time to implement change. No one thinks lawmakers should spend several hours every day raising money some estimates say lawmakers spend 25 percent to 50 percent of their time "dialing for dollars".
No one prefers that a tiny fraction of wealthy Americans provide the vast majority of the money needed to supply our democracy with leaders.
Lawrence Lessig, the iconoclastic professor who is now at Harvard, traces the rise of hyper-partisanship to the emergence of the perpetual campaign and the constant need for money. Look at the shutdown. It cost the economy billions of dollars but raised millions of dollars for both Democrats and Republicans," he says.
At some point, this money chase has to take a psychological toll. How do you spend all morning attacking your opponent and then make a deal with them in the afternoon? Then there's just basic housekeeping. Any constitutional lawyer can point out the places that need work: How much authority should presidents have in the case of a national emergency? Do individuals have a right to privacy in an age of high-tech snooping by the National Security Agency? Hawaii joined the Union on this day in , an act that remains historically significant but not without controversy. The Supreme Court case Dred Scott v.
Sandford inflamed sectional tensions over slavery and propelled the United States toward…. Section 3 New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.
Section 4 The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive when the Legislature cannot be convened against domestic Violence. Blog Post On this day, we added the 50th state Hawaii joined the Union on this day in , an act that remains historically significant but not without controversy. Educational Video Dred Scott v.