Making Democracy Work

Constitutional Amendment Study and Consensus

Amending the Constitution! Hold a constitutional convention! What exactly is involved in each of these? What are the implications?

What should and should not be considered when amending the Constitution? Should it be easier to amend the Constitution? More difficult?

Oakland Leaguers participated in this national LWV study. LWVUS study consensus questions on Constitutional amendments were the focus of our work.

In November, LWV held a forum followed by a consensus discussion.
Jon Stein On November 4, Jonathan Stein presented on the process to amend the Constitution, including ideas about potential changes to the process. Jonathan is the State Chair of Common Cause and civil rights attorney with the ACLU.

On November 7, the LWVO held the League Consensus meeting and discussed the LWVUS consensus questions.
Amazingly, LWVUS does not now have a position on this issue, so the results of our own consensus meeting, together with those of other Leagues around the country, will help create a new League position that can be used as a basis for advocacy and action. Click here for our detailed responses to these questions.
Here is a summary of what we submitted to LWVUS:

When is a constitutional amendment appropriate and acceptable?
In general we agreed that the Constitution should not be overloaded with amendments that are narrowly focused and would be more appropriately addressed by legislation (the California State constitution was considered a bad example: one not to follow!). Amendments should be used for policy objectives that have an "acute and abiding importance" and that aim to make our political system more democratic or to protect individual rights. The Constitution allows for amendments either through a vote in Congress followed by ratification in the states, or through a Constitutional Convention. Apart from the original drafting itself in 1787, a convention has never been held, although there are current calls from various states on various issues, such as a balanced budget or undoing the Citizens United decision.

The existing language is vague about how a constitutional convention would actually be set up and function, for example how state representation at a convention should be determined, or whether it should be limited to a specific defined topic or allowed to broaden its scope. We agreed that using a convention to amend the Constitution is so problematical that the League should oppose calls for a Convention unless questions about its powers and process are resolved. League response to proposed amendments + the "balancing" question.

The League (at all levels) is often asked to support a political initiative that would advance one of our policy goals even if the process used or parts of the proposal itself do not meet our basic criteria for good government. Basically, should the ends justify the means? This requires a balancing decision process within the League. Our group could not reach a clear consensus on directives to LWVUS for this balancing. Discussion was lively and eye-opening; questions and issues were more nuanced and complex than they seemed at first.

We all came away from the meeting feeling better informed and with some new ideas to chew on.

Background information on the Constitutional Amendment Study is available on the LWVUS site.