Opinions

At 230, U.S. Constitution needs another amendment

Sept. 17 is Constitution Day, the 230th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1887. Our Constitution establishes the most fundamental structures of our democracy, and helps protect we, the people, against abuses of governmental power.

The drafters of that document knew it was not perfect when it was adopted and provided mechanisms to amend it as needed.

They wanted us to improve upon it over time. Each generation must not only protect and defend the rights and powers we have inherited from our forebearers, but also renew, clarify and extend our rights and powers of self-governance as needed with the changing times.

The Constitution has been amended 27 times over the last 228 years. The first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, enumerated some of our basic liberties including rights to freedom of speech, association and religion, freedom of the press, protection against unreasonable search and seizure, and due process under the law.

It also clearly recognized that people have rights not enumerated in the Constitution. Amendments 13 through 15 abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, guaranteed citizenship, voting rights and other constitutional rights for the freed slaves.

Women's right to vote was won in 1920 with ratification of the 19th Amendment. Student activists in the Vietnam era asserted that if 18-year-olds can fight and die for their country, they should also have the right to vote; the 26th amendment was ratified in 1971.

The 17th Amendment provides for the popular election of senators, and the 22nd Amendment sets term limits for the presidency. Other amendments address governmental authorities and further modify electoral procedures.

[Return to reason: Corporations are not citizens]

It is time for another amendment. Big money has drowned out the voices of ordinary citizens in electoral politics, and dark money is hijacking our deliberations on public policy. We must reassert the political principle that only adult citizens of the United States have the right to participate in our elections and democratic processes.

U.S. House Joint Resolution 48, introduced and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 44 representatives, does this: it offers an amendment clarifying that Constitutional rights are for natural persons only — not corporations or other artificial entities — money is not speech, and our elected representatives have the authority and duty to regulate political campaign finances.

A Constitutional amendment is normally passed by Congress and referred to the states. It takes effect when three-fourths of the states vote to ratify. While the women's suffrage amendment took 72 years to be passed and ratified, the 26th amendment took only 100 days. Nineteen states and over 800 municipalities have already gone on record supporting a constitutional amendment like HJR 48.

One excellent way to honor the Constitution and exercise your responsibilities as a citizen is to contact all your elected representatives at the local, state and national level, and tell them to support HJR 48. Ask your congressional delegation to support and cosponsor it.

Ask your state and local representatives to vote for related supportive resolutions in their respective assemblies.

You can also attend the Seawolf Debate, faculty forum, and public discussion on HJR 48, set for 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, in Room 307 of the UAA Consortium Library. Come celebrate and reaffirm our democratic heritage.

Sharman Haley, a retired professor of economics and public policy at the University of Alaska Anchorage, is now an activist with Anchorage Move to Amend.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com. 

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