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  • When it was ratified in 1789,

  • the U.S. Constitution didn't just institute a government by the people.

  • It provided a way for the people to alter the constitution itself.

  • And yet, of the nearly 11,000 amendments proposed in the centuries since,

  • only 27 have succeeded as of 2016.

  • So what is it that makes the Constitution so hard to change?

  • In short, its creators.

  • The founders of the United States were trying to create a unified country

  • from thirteen different colonies,

  • which needed assurance that their agreements couldn't be easily undone.

  • So here's what they decided.

  • For an amendment to even be proposed,

  • it must receive a two-thirds vote of approval

  • in both houses of Congress,

  • or a request from two-thirds of state legislatures

  • to call a national convention,

  • and that's just the first step.

  • To actually change the Constitution,

  • the amendment must be ratified by three-quarters of all states.

  • To do this, each state can either have its legislature vote on the amendment,

  • or it can hold a separate ratification convention

  • with delegates elected by voters.

  • The result of such high thresholds

  • is that, today, the American Constitution is quite static.

  • Most other democracies pass amendments every couple of years.

  • The U.S., on the other hand, hasn't passed one since 1992.

  • At this point, you may wonder how any amendments managed to pass at all.

  • The first ten, known as the Bill of Rights,

  • includes some of America's most well-known freedoms,

  • such as the freedom of speech,

  • and the right to a fair trial.

  • These were passed all at once

  • to resolve some conflicts from the original Constitutional Convention.

  • Years later, the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery,

  • as well as the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments,

  • only passed after a bloody civil war.

  • Ratifying amendments has also become harder

  • as the country has grown larger and more diverse.

  • The first ever proposed amendment,

  • a formula to assign congressional representatives,

  • was on the verge of ratification in the 1790s.

  • However, as more and more states joined the union,

  • the number needed to reach the three-quarter mark increased as well,

  • leaving it unratified to this day.

  • Today, there are many suggested amendments,

  • including outlawing the burning of the flag,

  • limiting congressional terms,

  • or even repealing the Second Amendment.

  • While many enjoy strong support, their likelihood of passing is slim.

  • Americans today are the most politically polarized since the Civil War,

  • making it nearly impossible to reach a broad consensus.

  • In fact, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

  • once calculated that due to America's representative system of government,

  • it could take as little as 2% of the total population to block an amendment.

  • Of course, the simplest solution would be to make the Constitution easier to amend

  • by lowering the thresholds required for proposal and ratification.

  • That, however, would require its own amendment.

  • Instead, historical progress has mainly come from the U.S. Supreme Court,

  • which has expanded its interpretation of existing constitutional laws

  • to keep up with the times.

  • Considering that Supreme Court justices are unelected

  • and serve for life once appointed,

  • this is far from the most democratic option.

  • Interestingly, the founders themselves may have foreseen this problem early on.

  • In a letter to James Madison,

  • Thomas Jefferson wrote that laws should expire every 19 years

  • rather than having to be changed or repealed

  • since every political process is full of obstacles

  • that distort the will of the people.

  • Although he believed

  • that the basic principles of the Constitution would endure,

  • he stressed that the Earth belongs to the living,

  • and not to the dead.

When it was ratified in 1789,

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Why is the US Constitution so hard to amend? - Peter Paccone

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/07/03
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