Thursday, January 17, 2008

Students weigh in

I had the privilege of speaking in December to students at Medfield (Mass.) High School, who had been assigned my book as part of an extended unit on the Constitution. The unit culminated in a "constitutional convention" conducted by each of the three classes taught by Richard Desorgher, who had, I think tellingly, won an award for being Massachusetts' "teacher of the year" in the 1990s. I find the conclusions of the classes to be of great interest. As should be obvious, I am enthusiastic about some of the conclusions, less so about others. But the point is that these students were able to ask first-rate questions about the operation of our constitutional system and to come to their own conclusions. They represent reasons to have hope about the future, especially if they can be encouraged to carry their "active citizenship" into the future rather than become turned off from politics.

Their conclusions follow:

Period D
Executive Branch:
1. The Electoral College was done away with and the election of the
President will be by popular vote
2. The president would run alone during the campaign and after elected would nominate a Vice President as outlined in the current 25th amendment.
3. Veto power would be taken away from the President. Bills sent to the President for his signing would go first to the Supreme Court to make there are no Constitutional issues.
4. The President would only be able to pardon anyone with a majority vote of the Senate.
5. Presidential “signings” on the bottom of laws would be prohibited
6. The power of “recess appointments” would be denied the President.
7. A candidate running for President would not have to be born in the U.S. but would at the time of his election have lived at least one half his life in the U.S.
8. Example: a 40 year old candidate running for President would have to
have lived in the U.S. for at least 20 years.

Legislative Branch:
1. The government would stay a bicameral government. With the House of
Representatives also serving a 6-year term.
2. The use of the filibuster would remain in the Senate.
3. Only Congress could declare war. The President could send troops anywhere only for 30-days before Congress would have to declare war or the troops would have to be pulled out.
4. The newly elected Congress would take over one week after the date of the election and the President would take over the duties of the President one month after the election; making a shorter lame duck session.
5. Agreements and treaties would both need 2/3 Senate approval in order to pass.
6. The current amendment process would stay as it is currently
7. Ratification of the new Constitution would take some type of popular vote. Discussion was never ending and a consensus could not be reached.

Judicial Branch
1. Supreme Court justices would have one 18-year term. At the completion of the term justices would receive full life pensions
2. The process of appointing justices would remain the same as it currently is written.

3. Incompetent presidents could be removed from office with a 2/3 vote of both houses of Congress. A special election would be called. In the time between removal and the special selection, the current vice President would serve as Acting President. The new president would
serve out the existing term of the removed president.
4. In the event of the need of a military draft, both males and females would be equally
5. There would be no special age requirements for any local, state
or federal office. The only requirement would be they be age 18 and older.

Period F
Executive Branch
1. President would be elected by popular vote. The Electoral College would
be replaced
2. The President and Vice President would run together as they currently do.
3. The Executive branch’s power of veto, pardon, signings and recess
appointments would be curtailed.
4. You would not have to be born in the U.S. in order to run for President . You would just have to have lived here 18 years before you were inaugurated.

Legislative Branch
1. We would keep the current bicameral system of government
2. The Senate would keep its ability to filibuster.
3. The President’s ability as Commander–in-Chief would remain the same.
4. A newly elected President and Congress would begin their new term of office one month after elected. Taking over in the beginning of December instead of in January.
5. The President would not have the power to make agreements. Agreements like treaties would require senate approval, as is currently in the Constitution.
6. The amendment process would stay the same as currently in the Constitution

Judicial Branch
1. Life-tenure would remain the same for Supreme Court justices

1. Incompetent Presidents could be removed with a 2/3 vote of both houses
of Congress. The Vice president would take over in the interim period. There would be a three month campaign-election period before the new president was elected.
2. The military draft could take place but both male and females would equally be drafted but both parents in a family could not serve at the same time and different military jobs would be assigned for males and females.
3. All age requirements for elected office would be eliminated. Any one could run for local, state or federal office as long as they were age 18 or older

Period G

Executive Branch
1. President would be elected by popular vote
2. The president and the Vice President would run together for office as a ticket, as they currently do.
3. Power of the veto would be taken away from the president. He/she could only sent it to the Supreme Court to make sure it was constitutional.
4. The President could only pardon with a 2/3 approval vote of the House of Representatives.
5. Presidential signings would be eliminated.
6. The President would no longer have the power for recess appointments. The president, however, could call the Senate back into session to consider an appointment.
7. In order to run for President, one would have to be a U.S. citizen by age 19.

Legislative Branch
1. Our government would remain bicameral.
2. The Senate would keep the filibuster. A 2/3 vote could end the filibuster and the filibuster would have to actually take place, not just the threat of the filibuster.
3. Only Congress could declare war. If the president wanted to send troops anywhere he/she would need a majority vote of the House of Representatives to do so
4. The newly elected President and Congress would take over two weeks after being elected.
5. Presidents would not have the ability to add signings to signed new laws they signed.
6. The amendment process would remain the same except every 10 years a National Constitutional Convention would be called, chaired by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to consider and recommend to the Congress possible changes.

Judicial Branch
1. Supreme Court justices would have life tenure but an 80% vote of the
House of Representatives at any time could remove an” incompetent” justice.

1. Incompetent Presidents could be removed by a 2/3 vote of both houses of Congress, with the Vice President taking over until the election of the new President. A one-month election session would be held to elect the new President. The new President would finish out the remainder of the term.
2. The Convention could not come to a positive vote concerning the military draft.
3. Anyone could run for a local, state or federal office upon reaching the age of 18


Blogger Anonymous said...

Beyond the idea that an 18 year old would be competent to serve in a federal office and the suggestion that House members would have a 6-year term (gad! House members are quite often full-on nutsy-cookoo), I rather like the changes suggested. Of course, when you have teenagers suggesting changes, of course they would idealistically believe that they are each fully competent to be President, Senator, etc.

I would alter the pardon thing. I like allowing the President to still pardon people but only those without any ties, financial or professional to their Administration or former economic or political life. In other words, a President can ONLY pardon those with whom he/she has had NO substantive association.

January 18, 2008 12:18 PM  
Blogger Anonymous said...

Oh...and another thing I would like to see at least in the House of Representatives: proportional representation. No more Dems vs Rethugs. I want a more parliamentary type of House. It may even be a good idea for the Senate. No more forcing a two-party system (which is actually just two wings of the same corporate party).

Which just brought up another change that needs to be made: corporations are not people and must not be treated as if they have the rights of actual people.
NO corporate contributions are to be permitted to campaigns. Campaigns are to be either fully people-funded or publicly funded but NO corporate involvement allowed. If you cannot vote, you cannot donate and cannot write laws.

January 18, 2008 12:24 PM  
Anonymous joejoejoe said...

I had an idea about the Senate rules.

For the purposes of setting the calendar and ending debate only, any group of Senators representing 2/3 of the population of the country could can end debate.

On legislation, nominations, and treaties -- voting stays the same as it is now.

I think that rule might pick up a dozen or so big state (say 6M+) GOP senators who like the idea of having more power relative to other Senators and keep almost all of the Senate Democrats who would see it as a reform of the process.

January 26, 2008 10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure all these changes are a good idea. The main problem with the Judiciary is that it always reflects a more conservative stance than current politics asks for. That's not always a bad thing. Some of my own suggestions:
1. Organize the Judiciary so that Appellate judges with multi-state jurisdiction rotate with State Jurisdiction.
2. Enforce the principle of separation of powers down to the Department and Agency level with administrative judges having oversight over legal opinions and over commissions.
3. Insert the principle of Federalism in administration giving more local democracy

March 23, 2008 9:58 AM  
Blogger Gene Wine said...

I'm happy to see that the students want to cut the President's power, but surprised at how much power they want to give to Congress. Probably has something to do with the present occupants of those institutions!

We had a mock Congress when I was in high school. It was an excellent experience in the art of politicking. At the end some of the boys engineered impeaching, trying and convicting the President!

April 5, 2008 12:40 PM  
Blogger Scott Trimble said...

Like this blog, the message boards at Larry Sabato's site has become attacked by spam, with no apparent action by any moderator. One of the users there has established a new board that he will moderate at He assures us that while the site has "libertarian" in its name, that its sole purpose is constitutional discussion, and that it is open to all views.

June 23, 2008 1:08 PM  

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