Rewriting the U.S. Constitution: A View from the Left

Over the past few years activists on the right have quietly been obtaining support from various state legislators to call another constitutional convention and get our country a new constitution. There is so much fear of this on the informed left, and so much ignorance of it among newcomers to voting, that there is only one more state legislature needed to make this call official, and most of us know nothing about it.

Ironically, there are plenty of reasons for progressives to welcome a rewrite of the US Constitution. Alexander Hamilton might make for a rousing musical, but his vision of a central government made strong through ties to financial power is hardly what progressives would like. James Madison’s vision of checks and balances among three coequal branches of government, devoid of contamination and coordination by political parties, has proven completely unrealistic. And the power given to state governments was always meant to maintain a fragile unity between those who thrived on unpaid hostage labor and those who wanted to advance their families through fair wages and safe work.

But given that those tensions all still exist, where can left and right find common ground on which to base an opening move? That’s an easy one: the power given to each branch of government to define and police itself. A corollary dear to my heart lies in the fact that Robert’s Rules of Order were not written until almost a century after the Constitution, and began as an attempt to codify their rules. But because each house of Congress retains the power to define and police itself, they are not held to Robert’s Rules, preferring instead to landscape a new procedural environment each time the party majority changes hands. The most powerful person in each house, other than its majority leader, is whoever chairs the Committee on Rules.

So here are some easy first steps:

1) Each branch shall be subject to any laws, standards, and punishments it sets for the populace.

2) Each branch shall conduct itself according to Robert’s Rules of Order. Foremost among these is the requirement that each proposal to be voted consist of only one topic, elucidated in its name, and any amendment must be germane.

3) The Congressional Record shall be a full and accurate record of what is done in congressional proceedings, which no one shall manipulate to create a false impression of something done or said. Supporting documents and full texts of testimony by witnesses to committees will still be permitted. (At the moment, members may insert any speech, document, or information without any proof they have done or said what the insertion asserts.)

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