Changing the Constitution to reflect the will of the people 

Last week, I participated in an unusual event — a conference on the prospects for a federal Constitutional Convention at Harvard Law School, co-sponsored with the Tea Party Patriots and Fix Congress First.

A wide variety of participants from both the left and the right mixed with surprising comfort and cordiality, and found numerous points of agreement. Something’s just not right with the country, all agreed, and my comment that America has by far the worst political class in its history drew universal applause.

It’s certainly true, as even a brief glance at the news will illustrate. When the country was founded, we had Jefferson, Madison, Washington and Franklin, among many other giants. Now we have ... well, a bunch of greedy pygmies.

But, of course, that in itself poses a problem for any new Constitutional Convention. The Constitution we have now is the product of Madison and those others. Would we get a better one from the likes of Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner? Probably not. On the other hand, anything new that comes out of a convention will have to be approved by three-fourths of the states.

We may find out, given that dissatisfaction with the current situation continues to grow. According to an August Rasmussen poll, only 17 percent of Americans think the current government has the consent of the governed, and in a Gallup poll from last week, 49 percent of Americans thought the federal government poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens.

At any rate, in the spirit of the discussion, I have a few amendments of my own to propose:

  • I think the Ninth Amendment, which reads, “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people,” should be amended by adding at the end “and we really mean it!” Ditto the 10th Amendment, which provides “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” These amendments would underscore that the federal government is one of limited and enumerated powers, and that those powers are islands in a sea of rights, not the other way around.
  • Any person, having been elected to the office of United States senator, shall be forever ineligible to be elected to the office of president of the United States. Very few senators ever become president, but of the 100 people serving in the Senate at any given time, probably about 95 think they’ve got a shot.
  • The 16th Amendment, which provides for the income tax, should be amended to limit the progressivity of that tax. Right now, the income tax burden of the top 1 percent of taxpayers exceeds that of the bottom 95 percent. The top 50 percent of earners, meanwhile, paid more than 97 percent of income taxes, while the bottom 50 percent paid less than 3 percent. You don’t have to be an opponent of progressive taxation to recognize that such a narrow concentration of burdens poses risk in a democratic system.

If voters focus on the kind of government they want, and don’t fall for the distractions that the political class routinely deploys, we won’t need a new Constitutional Convention. And if voters aren’t up to that, then a convention probably won’t do any good anyway.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, hosts “InstaVision” on

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