The US Constitution has 27 amendments. The last amendment was passed in 1992 and nobody knows what it is about. The last major constitutional amendment to pass was in 1951 when the 22nd Amendment limited the number of times a person can be elected President to two. Before that in 1920 the 19th Amendment allowed women to vote. In 1913, the 17th amendment established the direct election of US senators by popular vote and the 16th amendment allowed Congress to levy an income tax. In 1870, the 15th Amendment allowed people of color to vote.
It is a shame that our generation hasn’t been able to add its input to the US constitution. The US Constitution is far from a perfect document and needs to be improved over time. The Trump presidency showed how much the US constitution depends on the President being an honest and honorable person. There are many practices that US Presidents have followed that are norms, but not laws. But Trump happened and we can no longer assume that future US Presidents will be honest and honorable. Voters can make mistakes and in the age of direct social media and reckless demagoguery, voters will make even more mistakes in the future. More safeguards are needed to make American democracy more resilient. On this 4th of July when America celebrates its birth, I want to propose a series of constitutional amendments to strengthen American democracy in the future:
- A Senator needs to represent at least 1 million people
The US constitution says that House Congressmen have to represent at least 30,000 people and I think a similar requirement needs to be made for Senators. As populations have grown over the years, the disparity between rural and urban states have grown dramatically. A new type of state has emerged – the suburban state – and it is drastically underrepresented in the Senate. Rural states have acquired a disproportionate power in the Senate and rural interests often run roughshod over suburban interests. It doesn’t make any sense for states like Alaska and Wyoming with less than a million residents to be sending 2 senators. A small state like Connecticut has 3 suburban counties – Fairfield, Hartford and New Haven – which each have higher population than the entire state of Alaska or Wyoming. It is not fair for suburban states to be under represented like this. As such we need a requirement that a state needs to have at least 2 million people to send 2 senators. States with sub 2 million populations should send only 1 senator. This type of rule ensures that rural interests still are represented in the Senate but not overrepresented.
- Direct election of Attorney General
The Trump presidency has revealed a critical weakness in the US constitution – the President can’t be held accountable for crimes he commits while in office. The main reason for that is because the President can appoint and fire the Attorney General at will. If an investigation gets close to the President, the President can fire the Attorney General and put a person who can shut down all the investigations. This makes the US governance system extremely vulnerable to a dishonest President like Trump. There is not enough checks and balances inside the executive branch. We can’t have Congress run impeachments constantly because the Attorney General’s office can’t function properly. Congress should be busy writing laws instead of administering justice. Administering justice is the job of the Department of Justice.
As such, the major parties need to nominate an Attorney General that will be elected together with the President. The name of the AG needs to be right there next to the President and VP. The position of Attorney General effectively dictates US social policy and this is an extremely important position. Americans often have no idea who their next AG will be. The Attorney General needs to be more independent of the Executive Branch and take his power from the people. People need to know who they are voting for AG when they go to vote. Many states already allow the direction elections of state AGs. The President shouldn’t be able to fire the AG. If for some reason the AG resigns or is impeached before his 4 year term ends, the President can appoint a replacement with Senate confirmation as is the current procedure. There should be also a 2-term limit for how long a person can be AG just like there are for a President.
- Direct election of Federal Reserve Chairman
Presidents currently have way too much sway over monetary policy. Monetary policy powers are granted to Congress by the Constitution. Congress in turn has delegated them to semi-independent agency like the Fed since the economy often runs into trouble faster than political consensus can be built in Congress for a bailout. The Fed needs to have even more independence and in particular, the President shouldn’t be able to fire the Fed chair mid-term. Also it will be helpful to voters if a party outlines its economic policy and its choice for Fed chair before the election instead of after. Many Americans often are very surprised by actions of the Fed. Monetary Policy is extremely powerful and often more powerful than Fiscal Policy in addressing issues in the US economy and it is unconscionable that American voters don’t have a bigger say in who their Fed chair is. In some respects, the Fed chair is a more powerful person for the US economy than the President. The name of the future Fed chair should be right there on the ballot together with the President, VP and AG.
- Impeached President can’t be Commander-in-Chief
In 2020, we witnessed the sordid spectacle of Trump turning the US military against the American people after a legitimate impeachment failed to remove him from office earlier in the year. Currently, an impeachment by the House is simply a political spectacle and carries no actual loss of power for the President. And a removal is often considered to be too drastic an action. As such Presidents have become more brazen over the years and break the laws with increasing frequency. They can’t be prosecuted by the Department of Justice and with enough political heft in the Senate, they can avoid removal from office. This is a pattern that has gotten worse since Nixon and we need to modify the Constitution so that an impeachment is an act that does remove some powers from the President. President need to be more mindful of Congress and its impeachment powers.
Trump showed that the President can abuse his Commander-in-Chief powers after an impeachment. As such those powers need to be taken away from the Presidency. If a President is impeached, the Vice President automatically becomes a Commander-in-Chief. This way a President who is collapsing politically can’t turn the military against the American people.
- Allow states to run budget deficits in recession
About 50% of government spending in the US is done by state and local governments. State and local governments are big participants in the domestic economy on par with the Federal government. They provide critical government services such as police, fire, transportation and public education. One of the biggest economic problems that we have discovered in the US over the past 40 years is that state and local government actions to balance their budgets in a recession exacerbate the recession. They have to fire staff because of budget cuts and raise taxes to balance spending and tax revenues. 50% of the US government can’t run Keynesian stimulus in a recession and that in turn has led to longer and longer recessions and weaker and weaker recoveries over the years. We need to change that system so that state and local government can run a deficit like the Federal government automatically for as long as their local economies are in recession.