The United States constitution. Should it be altered to make it easier to amend?

Seminar Paper, 2012

9 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Although it is difficult to prove, the constitution of the United States of America is considered to be one of the most difficult constitution's to amend, as the political scientist Donald Lutz point out (Lutz 1994). Therefore the question arise whether there is a need to alter the amendment procedure, which is enshrined in Article V. First I will give general ideas of Article V and outline the difficulties that making amendments difficult. Then I will look at arguments against making amendments easier. Following this, I will argue in favour of making amendments easier. My main argumentation will be based on the assumption that not the supermajority rule is the problem, but the inner logic of Article V itself. Finally I will examine reform proposals, which could solve the problem.

Drafting the constitution, the framers had to solve the balancing act how to deal with constitutional amendments. On the one hand, if "the constitution makes change too easy, there is a risk that the constitution will not structure politics, but will be hostage to it. But making change too difficult may cause political instability" (Griffin 1995). Finally, the framers decided to set high hurdles for constitutional changes, which becomes obvious through the fact that the constitution has been altered only twentyseven times over two centuries. The main barrier to amend the constitution is enshrined in Article V of the constitution, which says:

"The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate." - Article V

Thus, constitutional amendments require a supermajority in the Congress as well as in the States. Since all changes to the constitution have been initiated by the congress and the convention method has never been used, a discussion about the amendment process arose.

To begin with, Kathleen Sullivan argues, that politicization of the constitution is a bad idea. According to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, “a constitution is not meant to embody a particular economic [and political] theory [but] made for people of fundamentally differing views” (Sullivan 1997: 64). The constitution provides a framework in which political parties and interest groups can fill in the framework according to their political views. Otherwise the constitution would become a playing field of political groups and the constitutional framework would run the risk to be changed after every change of government. Thus, amendments would allow one group with specific social or economic policy to take advantage of another. Therefore, it is not a surprise that the only constitutional change, which had the aim to impose a political opinion is the only one has been revoked. Another effect is that by frequent changing the constitution's reputation would suffer. Considering the experience of constitution's of the states, which unlike the federal constitution have been changed numerous times, the reputation of them is much lower in comparison to the federal constitution (Sullivan 1997: 63).

It is also argued that an easy amendment process may entail the risk of writing shortterm policy goals into the constitution. As a result, unwanted structural consequences could arise. In plain text this means, responsibilities, for example, belonging to the Congress would shift power to another area of competence like the permanent civil service or to the president (Sullivan 1997: 65).

Moreover, constitutional amendments would create a tense relationship to the authority of the Supreme Court. The apologists of constitution amendments often argue that constitution changes are essential to adapt constitutional principles to changing times. But the Supreme Court has been given a high level of discretion to contemporary issues and since there have been only twenty-seven amendments in the last two centuries, the power of the Supreme Court seems to be enough to take account of evolving social conditions (Sullivan 1997: 66). In short, “it helps keep the Constitution as a “constitution,” and not an assemblage of legislative enactments” (Spalding/England 2011).

In summary, it can be said that proponents of the amendment process interpreting the constitution in a conservative view, because they argue that the constitution has proved its worth over two centuries, so why should it be changed. Joseph Story gets the view right to the point saying that “the great great principle to be sought is to make the changes practicable, but not too easy; to secure due deliberation, and caution; and to follow experience, rather than to open a way for experiments ” (Spalding/England 2011).

According to Timothy Lynch the fact, that the a constitution signed in 1787 brought the United States into the twenty-first century without numerous changes can be explained by the genius of itself, is wrong. It is rather that the original meaning has been undermined over time. As Madison points out in the Federalist No. 45, the initial intuition of the constitution is that “ the powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State Governments, are numerous and indefinite."(Madison 1788). However, the case United States versus Lopez makes clear that the constitution has been reinterpreted in the benefit of the federal government.


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The United States constitution. Should it be altered to make it easier to amend?
University of Leeds
United States Politics
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Patrick Spieß (Author), 2012, The United States constitution. Should it be altered to make it easier to amend?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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