As stated by renowned historian Alexander Fraser Tytler, “the average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years” (Schaffer). With the respective ages of America and its Constitution being 243 and 229 years old, the United States has far exceeded Tytler’s and others’ expectations. The amendment process seems to present itself as a prominent cornerstone in America’s success. As opposed to Mexico’s constitution, which has been amended close to 500 times after its ratification in 1917 and has since effectively established a kleptocracy, the American Constitution’s mere 17 additional amendments forces the United States federal government to stay very close to the original guidelines and intent of the Constitution (Wall). The founders knew that occasionally citizens’ rights have to be documented or updated to protect them from an overreaching central government; however, the founders also knew that if the Constitution is amended too often, the document will start to lose its original power and stability. In order to keep the number of additional amendments to a minimum, the Founding Fathers made the amendment process especially challenging. According to Eric Posner, a Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, “the founders made the amendment process difficult because they wanted to lock in the political deals that made ratification of the Constitution possible” (Posner). In other words, the founders wanted to ensure that the centralized government never grows too strong, so they made the states a vital part of the amendment process to ensure adequate separation of powers. By developing a system of power shared between the states and the central government, even though the central government has more authority than under the Articles of Confederation, there exist numerous checks and balances that prevent the central government from becoming too large. While studying various amendments and current events, I have found one amendment that should be updated and two that should be added. Specifically, I believe that the 17th amendment should be reversed, that there should be a balanced budget amendment, and an amendment declaring English as America’s official language.
First, I would reverse the 17th amendment to rid of the direct election of senators: instead, the power to elect senators should revert to state legislatures. When the American Constitution was originally written, the founders preferred bicameralism in the federal government. As stated by John M. DeMaggio of The Hill, bicameralism exists when the “two branches of the legislative body [answer] to two separate constituencies, the Senate to the elected state governments and the House directly to the people” (DeMaggio). The concept of bicameralism was initially installed into the federal government to ensure protection from Athenian-Esque direct democracy, a ruling style that founders such as Madison feared would turn the land of the free into the land of mob rule (Rosen). When the 17th amendment was formulated in 1912, the writers presented a few reasons for the document to become an amendment: first, the writers thought the Senatorial elections had become internally corrupted; second, there were occasional voting gridlocks within state legislatures that deferred those states’ representation in D.C.; and third, many inferred that too much of the state legislatures’ time was spent choosing a Senator (DeMaggio). However, George Mason University Law School Professor Todd Zywicki challenged the 17th Amendment in the Cleveland State Law Review, stating that the arguments posed in favor of the amendment may no longer be valid (DeMaggio). Combatting the amendment’s reasons for being written, Zywicki said that “there is no indication that the shift to direct elections did anything to eliminate or even reduce corruption… deadlocks were exceptional… [and] the great majority of Senate elections were conducted without incident,” and “most legislatures took one vote at the beginning of each day and continued with their normal affairs” (DeMaggio). Therefore, with the cornerstone Senatorial election issues that built the 17th Amendment either resolved or disproved, America should return the election power to state legislatures, thereby also turning towards the original intent of the founders and showing favor to a republic rather than a direct democracy.
Second, I would introduce a balanced budget amendment that would help the American government focus on solving the current national debt crisis. As of January 14, 2020, the national debt passed the $23 trillion marker and left many in a state of disbelief (Nova). With the U.S. GDP expected to only come out to around $22 trillion by the end of 2020, $1 trillion less than the national debt, and the interest alone is close to half a trillion per year, a terrifying question begs to be answered: how is America supposed to pay off its debt and prevent massive debts from resurging in the future (Trading Economics)? In a balanced budget amendment, the government would not be able to arbitrarily raise the debt ceiling in order to borrow more money; thus, the federal government must spend less than they are taking in (Mitchell). Furthermore, in order to boost the debt limit, both chambers of Congress must reach the 60 percent support bench line (Mitchell). Even though similar measures were posed by lawmakers in the past, the lack of a constitutional amendment greatly inhibits the chances of success. As former McKenna Senior Fellow in Political Economy Daniel Mitchell points out, “under the Bush Administration alone, inflation-adjusted domestic spending climbed” more than “under Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson put together” (Mitchell). Furthermore, “combined with a jobs-killing tax hike in 1990 that lost $3 for every $1 it was supposed to raise, this spending spree slowed economic growth and drove the national debt to more than $3.2 trillion” (Mitchell). And since the 1990s, the national government has been increasingly running up debts through failed policies and government-funded organizations. In short, a balanced budget amendment will be a reform vital to the longevity of America: it will prevent feckless government spending and consequently protect the generations to come from wide-scale economic collapse brought about by debts that cannot be paid.
Finally, I would propose an amendment that establishes English as America’s official language. A country divided internally cannot stand the test of time, and Americans, knowing that history repeats itself, should look to the Quebec Referendum of 1995 as an example of what may come. In the Quebec Referendum, the Parti Québécoisa, a “sovereign provincial political party led by… Jacques Parizeau,” wished to separate the province of Quebec from the rest of Canada and lost with a 49.42 percent minority (Alexander). One of the major reasons the Parti Québécoisa wanted Quebec to break away from Canada was because of cultural differences: starting as early as the French and Indian War, Quebec has been culturally French while the rest of Canada is culturally English, and one of the main factors towards internal disagreement sprouted from variation in spoken languages (Alexander). America’s current trajectory with spoken and accepted national languages will land our country in the predicament of that of Canada if the appropriate policy is not established. Even though most may assume Spanish is the only prominent rival language to English in America, the country currently accommodates more than 350 additional languages, the most prominent being French, Arabic, and Chinese (Brice). This raises legitimate infrastructure concerns: in America, “21.3 million people were classified as ‘limited English proficient’ by the 2000 census — 8 percent of the population. Almost a quarter of them, 5 million, were born in the United States” (Brice). According to Brandon Brice from The Washington Times, because of the differentiation of spoken languages, the “cost of translators and bilingual education alone are billions, and many of these costs are borne by local governments” that, compared to the federal government, have minuscule budgets (Brice). Furthermore, “the indirect costs of accidents and lost productivity caused by the millions of people who don’t speak English are billions more” (Brice). And some of the accommodation measures, such as President Clinton’s Executive Order 13166 that forced established medical groups to hire translators for patients that could not speak or understand English, placed the language barrier burden directly on private businesses (Brice). Even more, these statistics were only last updated in 2002, so many dread to see what the data would read for 2021. However, aside from pure economic reasoning, many feel that a country disowns its sovereignty when it allows foreign migrants to resist assimilation into its culture and subsequently corrupt the culture and values that once existed (Alexander). If the United States enacts an amendment that forces all public and government-run establishments to acknowledge English as the official language, those who have been granted the privilege to immigrate to America would be forced to accept a cornerstone piece of American society, and by doing so would help promote the union of the nation for generations to come.
Even though I have advocated for three changes to the American Constitution in this essay, I firmly believe that even the most popular proposed amendments should go through the tedious processes of today’s system. Without this safeguard, the America that many have come to cherish and enjoy may lie just one generation away from extinction. The Founding Fathers knew the dangers of direct democracy and mob rule, and if the amendment process came to a mere majority vote in Congress, a few dozen people may just end up deciding the gloomy fate of hundreds of millions.
Ethan Lawler is a sophomore neuroscience major at UT Austin. In addition to being the interview chair for Delta Sigma Phi, Ethan is an Ignite camp counselor and a Sunday morning usher for the Austin Stone. In his spare time, Ethan loves hanging with friends at Zilker, hiking, running through Austin, and attending fraternity events. In the future he wants to be a successful Orthopedic Surgeon and entrepreneur.