Rewr⁠i⁠⁠t⁠⁠i⁠ng ⁠t⁠he Cons⁠t⁠⁠i⁠⁠t⁠u⁠t⁠⁠i⁠on

By: The James Madison Institute / August 11, 2011

The James Madison Institute


August 11, 2011

By Francisco Gonzalez, JMI Development Director
Late last year, in his editorial in the Washington Post, Dana Milbank accused Congressman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) of attempting to “rewrite the Constitution.” On November 30, Bishop introduced a constitutional amendment that has become known as the Repeal Amendment.The Repeal Amendment reads as such: “Any provision of law or regulation of the United States may be repealed by the several states, and such repeal shall be effective when the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states approve resolutions for this purpose that particularly describe the same provision or provisions of law to be repealed.”Whether or not you support such an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it is interesting to analyze Milbank’s questionable accusation that Congressman Bishop is trying to “rewrite the Constitution”  by simply proposing an amendment. I think Mr. Milbank needs a civics lesson.Mr. Bishop was sent to Washington to represent the people of his district. As one of 435 representatives to the U.S. House, he has the right to support or reject any piece of legislation put before him and, in this Republic, is subject to the voters’ will in his district alone. This will of the voters is tested every two years on Election Day. The Congressman also has the right to propose any piece of legislation, including amendments to the U.S. Constitution.Perhaps Mr. Milbank is mistaken about what kind of system of government we live in. Far too often progressives circumvent the Constitution in ways our Founders did not intend – they do so by writing unconstitutional laws or by handing down judicial decisions that ignore, disparage, or discredit the law of the land, the U.S. Constitution.Progressives often claim that the Constitution is a “living document.” For them, the “meaning” of words and expressions in the written document should be adapted to the times. Often you might hear a progressive say the Constitution is “outdated.” In fact, even more recently, Time magazine ran a cover article asking if the Constitution mattered any more.And that’s exactly the reason our Founders included an amendments process. They realized there would be issues and societal changes they could not foresee and thus left us rules on how to amend the rules.Yet when those of us who still believe in the Constitution propose an amendment we are accused by progressives such as Milbank of trying to “rewrite the Constitution.” Perhaps Mr. Milbank forgot that James Madison also “edited” (Milbank’s words) the Constitution he helped write, when he proposed and amended the Constitution with the first ten amendments, now known as the Bill of Rights. Those amendments were added four years after the Constitution was approved by the thirteen states and while Mr. Madison was a representative to Congress.It takes quite a lot of work to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. If two-thirds of both houses of Congress votes for Mr. Bishop’s amendment, it would still require three-fourths of the states legislatures to approve and ratify it.  This tedious process is probably why there have only been 27 total amendments in our nation’s history since the U.S. Constitution was first adopted in 1787. And considering only 17 have been added since Madison added the first 10 in 1791, it’s no wonder that progressives would rather ignore the Constitution to pursue their own agenda rather than take up an amendments process.Then again, let’s not give the progressives any ideas. They are the ones that “rewrote” the Constitution in 1913 – twice – with an amendment that created a federal income tax and another one taking power away from the states by allowing the people to vote directly for U.S. Senators and thus changing the nature of the two houses of Congress as a check upon each other, as the founders intended. It seems that Mr. Bishop’s proposal to support the Repeal Amendment would probably make Mr. Madison smile. Even he knew the work of this Republic is never done.