12 Uncommon Suggestions for Amending the Constitution

Atlantic readers offer ideas including a tricameral legislature, a ban on incarcerating nonviolent criminals, and declassifying all information after 20 years.

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Last week, I solicited suggestions for Constitutional amendments. Many of the responses were familiar: There are ongoing debates about the extent to which corporations should be treated as people, for example, and both sides in the abortion debate were keen on permanently codifying their preferences. I appreciate all the email, but below I've decided to focus on the suggestions that I've never seen widely discussed or debated, the better to provoke civic thought. Except where otherwise indicated, I express no opinion about whether these are good or bad ideas.

Keep Your Laws Off Their Bodies

Terry Rolon writes:

Legal jargon aside, an adult person should be sovereign over their own bodies and free to do anything they wish to it without limit. They ought to be able to ingest anything, even if it kills them. They ought to be able end their life at any time for any reason. The decision to do so ought to be outside the reach of government.

Says Sarath Krishnaswamy:

Congress shall pass no law regarding actions between or among consenting adults on private property, where the effects of such actions are reasonably wholly contained to the sphere of said adults, said express consent, and said property.

This would seem to make possible a legal market for kidneys.

How About a Parliament?

Several readers suggested changing America's legislative branch to a European-style body that gives proportional representation to lots of competing political parties. What I'd never seen or thought of before is the suggestion of leaving Congress in place as it is, but adding a parliamentary body.

A tricameral legislature! A reader writes:

I'd like to add a third legislative body: a parliament. All new parties allowed. The parliament would appoint the vice president, who would act in tandem with the president, something like Cheney.

The parliament would be able to override both the Senate and the House if either splits on a bill. That is, if a bill passes the House, but not the Senate, the Parliament can pass the law which is sent to the President for signing (or veto). If the bill passes the Senate but not the House, the same. The Parliament would also be able to introduce legislation, which, at its discretion, can be sent to either the House or the Senate...

This would be more palatable to me if the Parliament could override the House but not the Senate.

Better Safeguarding the Constitution

Peter Jewett writes:

Citizens shall have standing to challenge the constitutionality of any federal law, executive order, or regulation. We wouldn't have to sit around and wait for elusive perfect plaintiffs (who have been harmed individually, who know they've been harmed, and can prove they've been particularly harmed) to settle whether an issue (Obamacare, drone strikes, warrantless wiretaps, federal funding of religion, etc.) are constitutional. Taxpayer standing would settle the issue almost immediately. It would lead to more litigation, but Congress could authorize a particular process for expediting the issue through a particular court or panel, to the Supreme Court.


A reader writes:

The public shall have the right to access all classified information after a period of 20 years.

Says another:

The power to classify information shall henceforth be vested in the judiciary with oversight by the Senate, which cannot classify material, but can make public anything wrongly classified.

Bill Cornett writes:

Any citizen has the absolute and complete right to record the words and actions of any government official acting in an overt manner with any member of the public. This right will also extend to the words and actions of anyone working on the behalf of any government agency or quasi-government entity of any type. No notice need be given. It shall be prohibited for anyone subject to recording under this amendment to force a citizen to abrogate this right as a requirement for interaction or proper action on the part of the entity from which they derive their authority.

The New Nullification

A reader writes:

A Federal law or regulation shall be repealed when articles of repeal are ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several states.

Says another:

States laws may grant more freedom than Federal laws, but never less. In the event the two laws conflict, the law granting greater personal freedom shall prevail.

Radical Criminal-Justice Reform

A reader suggests:

All nonviolent crimes shall be punished by means other than incarceration.

Says another:

Each year every member of Congress shall spend at least one consecutive day and night in a regular cell inside a randomly selected federal prison that is located inside his or her state.

Says a third:

All prisons shall be outfitted with streaming video cameras that any citizen can access over the Internet, the better to protect prisoners against abuse.