Constitution Day already?

It seems like just a few months ago that we celebrated Constitution Day 2007. Today, it’s Constitution Day again for the United States of America, commemorating the signing of the new country’s constitution, 221 years ago, by the members of the Constitutional Convention.

Other countries also commemorate their constitutions — on appropriate dates, naturally. In the US, Constitution Day ranks well below most other patriotic holidays. (Unlike Norway!)

If you’ve been reading our posts on recent Irish history, you won’t be surprised to learn that the Republic of Ireland has a hesitant relationship with its constitution. The problems start with the contested progression from the UK-imposed Constitution of the Free State, which more or less initiated a civil war, to the current Constitution of 1937, which was more or less written by √Čamon de Valera, and formally declared the independent Republic of Ireland. And don’t forget that Ireland’s constitution is the sole reason why the Irish electorate was allowed to vote on the Lisbon Treaty!

Ireland’s constitution sets it apart from the British tradition of common law — and much closer to the American commitment to a supreme founding document. It took decades for the British-trained lawyers of Ireland to develop their own idea of judicial review, but like the US, Ireland still struggles to apply a constitutional ideal of the rule of law.

Ireland’s recent constitutional history diverges from the United States on the matter of amendments. There are relatively few amendments to the US Constitution compared to other national constitutions from the last two centuries. For example, Ireland saw twenty-one amendments added to its constitution since 1972. (Five referenda to amend the Constitution of Ireland failed since that year.)

I don’t remember the passage of the twenty-seventh amendment in 1992. Maybe that is because it was trivial; here’s the entire text:

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

Hopefully what passed for reform in the early 1990s won’t satisfy my generation. Wait — that’s a contentious statement, isn’t it? Does the US really need more constitutional amendments?

The meaningful American proposals in recent history were the Equal Rights Amendment and the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment. Those failed to attain the approval of enough states. Meanwhile, American politicians introduce hundreds of amendments each year as a form of political speech. In the past few years, the US media paid attention to proposals regarding the definition of marriage, the requirement of balanced budgets, and the prohibition of flag desecration.

If there were a serious way for you to propose an amendment to your constitution, what would you put forth?

By the way, the State of Illinois may hold a constitutional convention in the near future. More on that later…

3 Comments to “Constitution Day already?”

  1. Dave said...
    17 September 2008

    You’re right, it’s very weird that there are so few amendments. Also, the most recent amendments are mostly procedural tweaks (term limits, compensation, voting, etc), no real significant changes.

    I wouldn’t mind an amendment that guarantees some sort of Right to Privacy. It’s scary just how much internet companies can target you. But then I guess gmail couldn’t be free, if they couldn’t store enough data about me to bombard me with ads about Notre Dame Football… Telemarketers should be included too!

  2. Jaime said...
    17 September 2008

    Will – if you were still residing in Gurnee, you would have recently received a pamphlet from our Secretary of State outlining the origin and requirement of calling a constitutional convention. The pamphlet also provided pros and cons (four each) of holding such a convention. The question as to whether the citizens of Illinois want a constitutional convention will be on the November ballot (which you probably already know since you have the absentee ballot in hand). In 1988, the good people of Illinois responded by a 75/25 margin that a consititutional convention was *not* needed.

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    18 September 2008

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