Political candidates and updating the U.S. constitution 
By Walter Sorochan Emeritus Professor San Diego State University

Posted June 3, 2022.

It is election time again. The news is loaded with candidates running for political offices. Candidates are making all kinds of eye catching promises on how they will save the country! Newspapers and TV provide an opportunity for these candidates to express their agenda and what they will do after they get elected. What surprised me was that mass media neglected to list the candidate's background readiness for elected office. No mention of candidate-job requirements! This seemed like a worthy article to explore the flaws of electing people to government offices.

uncle sam2 I was going to initially explore candidate-job requirements for politicians until I stumbled across an article suggesting that we need to update the constitution. Then more articles about the flaws in the constitution and the need to streamline the constitution. Poor uncle Sam! So updating the constitution all of a sudden became a bigger and more important "fix" than election time and candidate requirements for office. I took time out and read the U.S. Constitution several times. Get reacquainted with the constitution by reading it here:  Constitution of United States

Uncle Sam [which has the same initials as United States] is a common national personification cartoon logo of the federal government of the United States or the country in general. According to legend, the character came into use during the War of 1812.

But lets start with the list of the very few constitutional candidate requirements:  Manley: requirements for congress 2022

Additional personal skills but not required include:

Anyone who meets the Constitutional requirements and wishes to run for a seat in the House of Representatives must also accumulate a certain number of signatures on a petition and/or pay registration fees to the state.

The first three requirements were drafted by the fathers of the constitution for candidates running for federal offices during 1787. The other additional personal skills are perceived as essential for candidates running for office in the complex 2022 world. We need a job-description for all candidate offices.

Could we kill two birds with one stone? And fix the candidate voting requirements and other political flaws in voting by updating the constitution? Lets take a quick look at the constitution.

I was surprised by the number of legal scholars who advocated an update to the constitution.  Gildman: Update constitution 2011  Kay: updating the constitution 2020  Lawyer: Time to update dysfunctional government 2016  Lucas: Update second amanedment 2018   Lillebo: Updating US constitution 2012.  Pruitt: Constitutional changes since 1787 2020  John Vile, Professor and Chairman of the Political Science Department at Middle Tennessee State University, analyzed all historical proposals within the framework of the constitutional amending process, published as an article and book in 1991. Vile: Rewriting the constitution

constitution fathers

The United States Constitution was drafted the second time in a cramped room in Philadelphia in 1787 with shades drawn over the windows. It was signed by 39 people. America at the time consisted of 13 states. Congress had 26 senators and 65 representatives. The entire population was about one percent of today's number - four million people. America was an agricultural society, with no industry, not even cotton gins. The flush toilet had just been invented. These were the circumstances under which this document was written. The U.S. Constitution is an extraordinary work; one of the greatest expressions of liberty and law in human history. One amazing testament to it is the mere fact that it has survived as the law of the land for 234 years. But the U.S. Constitution has been revised and approved with amendments only 28 times as of 2022.

Most Americans have never read the constitution, much less understand it. Lawyers are famous for making a simple statement so worded that simple citizens cannot understand it.

Most Americans seem to think that the constitution gives them liberty and freedom to do what they like! They use the five freedoms, religion, speech, press, assembly and petitioning of government, from the Bill of Rights, to be their constitutional liberty right on how to live, carry out their brand of  justice and stretch freedom and constitutional right to have a gun.

Attorney Norman Goldman points out that: "The Constitution requires interpretation -- that is why we have courts. Creating the Constitution itself required a series of compromises -- the entire concept of the Bill of Rights itself was the result of a compromise -- the Founders were politicians, just as we have politicians today. They represented different factions and interests [e.g., slave owners; bankers] and had to find common ground to accomplish their ultimate end -- the establishment of a federal government and a governing system between the states and national government known as federalism." Gildman: Update constitution 2011 Modern federalism is a political system based upon democratic rules and institutions in which the power to govern is shared between national and provincial/state governments.

Paul A. Lillebo's article in the Blue Ridge Journal in 2012 gives us brief reasons why an update is needed:  Lillebo: Updating US constitution 2012.

" The grand old 18th century constitution has become nearly impossible to interpret – its meaning now depends on which judge makes the attempt. It is time to put the original document under [ magnifying] glass, venerate it as our founding treaty, and improve it to suit the 21st century."

"When a law reaches the point of obsolescence where judicial decisions based on it depend largely on who the judge is, it has become a useless, indeed a dangerous law. Our Constitution has reached that point: on constitutional issues our Supreme Court now represents a Rule of men, not a Rule of law."

"The Constitution is not biblical. It's not divinely inspired. It was a compromise disliked by many, including Benjamin Franklin. The Constitution as adopted was badly flawed: It permitted slavery to continue; it didn't guarantee rights; its system of elections and representation needed a complete overhaul; it left unclear the relations between the states and the federal government, which led to a horrible civil war. In Lord Acton's words from 1899: "...the instrument, as it stood, was a monstrous fraud. And yet, by the development of the principle of Federalism, it has produced a community more powerful, more prosperous, more intelligent, and more free than any other which the world has seen." (These thoughts and the quote are from Lord Acton: "Lectures on modern History, 1899-1901." Cambridge University Press 1906.)"

"The Constitution has succeeded, not because it was sufficient as written, but because it provided the mechanism for change. The greatness of the document lies in large part in the amendments that have been made to it, flawed as they also have been. It was meant to be flexible: to be maintained, corrected, and updated as needed, not to be left untended to rust like an unused farm implement behind the barn. By now it has unfortunately rusted badly, and our rare ad hoc amendments have been foolishly tacked on with little thought to clarifying just what they amend. I [ Lillebo] propose here a process for an update of our Constitution that will not include substantive amendments. The goals are first to have a modern, readable document, with the practical value that it can be read and understood by all, and second, to finally make it our Constitution, not just that of the 18th century founders. They originated it and wrote it to solve the problems of their time, but it must be every generation's responsibility to ensure that it's up to date and serves the needs of the new present.""

The validity of the constitution: The constitution was drafted by knowledgeable, common sense men in a time when the country was young and the country was in a farming horse and buggy culture. The colonists had just won a 'Tea Party' rebellion against England and gained sovereign power or authority rights as a new country. Colonists needed guns to hunt for wild game in order to survive while developing farms. The telegraph and steam engine had yet to make their appearance. There were very few educated persons. So the articles in the constitution, brilliant as these are, were proposed to provide guidance to the general population at that time. They drafted a democracy that they hoped would work for all people. The founders of the constitution could not have foreseen the future of their country in 2022 with all its problems and shortcomings. It would be in the interest of everyone to streamline and update the old constitution.

MIT professor Jonathan Gruber referred to the “stupidity of the American voter.” Elections are generally popularity contests and the electorate is generally dumb as well.  Yates: American voters 2020 Therefore, there should be an education requirement to run for Congress and the need for an informed voter. 

James Rest, professor of education at University of Minnesota, points out that there is evidence for accepting a developmental sequence in moral judgment, from low stage thinking to higher stage thinking. Rest reviews the evidence for three aspects of morality as part of the cognitive domain, although numerous other factors beyond moral judgment that influence normal behavior. Rest's conclusions come in large part from Lawrence Kohlberg's studies on morality in the late 1960s. Kohlberg’s theory of moral development is based on concepts of social cooperation and justice."  Rest: moral judgment research 1980  Higher level education moves the brain to think on a higher social-moral level, ability to reason and make good decisions.  Sorochan: Levels of education and reasoning 2022 So having a university Master's degree or equivalent should be a requirement for congresspersons.

John Lawyer, emeritus professor of political science at Bethel University, pointed out in 2016 that: "The chief problem we face today is that the balance of power between the president and Congress is frozen at an 18th-century stage of development." Like many other constitutional lawyers, he envisioned many nightmare scenarios occurring because of an outdated constitution.  Lawyer: Time to update dysfunctional government 2016

Writer Sarah Pruitt comments are worth reading: "The Founding Fathers intended the document to be flexible in order to fit the changing needs and circumstances of the country. In the words of Virginia delegate Edmund Randolph, one of the five men tasked with drafting the Constitution, the goal was to “insert essential principles only, lest the operations of government should be clogged by rendering those provisions permanent and unalterable, which ought to be accommodated to times and events.”"  Pruitt: Constitutional changes since 1787 2020

When the Constitution was written more than 200 years ago, the pioneers did not have many of the things and issues we have in today’s world. We have very complex social, economic, stock market, inflation, technological and political issues today, such as electricity, radio, television, internet, immigration, racism, injustice, social media, biased news coverage by CNN or FOX news and misinformation, that did not exist back when the constitution was drafted. We have grown and matured as a culture. We must make some possible revisions concerning all Amendments with clearer language. Many changes in the American political and legal system have come through judicial interpretation of existing and vague constitutional laws. This is persons making judgments and not following the vague law. The constitution states that it should be verified every 80 years.

James Madison, George Washington, George Mason and Thomas Jefferson all insisted that the Constitution should be updated by future generations. Those sentiments were best expressed by Jefferson, who wrote to Madison that "no society can make a perpetual Constitution. ... The Earth belongs always to the living generation. ... Every Constitution ... naturally expires at the end of 19 years" [the length of a generation in Jefferson's time].

So what are the chances of ratifying the sacred constitution since the first convention in 1787?  Updating the constitution has been done by amendments with lack of clarity. More than 11,000 amendments have been put before Congress in all US history but only 28 have been approved by congress and senate.

Article V of the Constitution calls for two-thirds [38 state legislatures must agree out of 50] of the states to come together to direct Congress to call a constitutional convention. It takes time for enough states to agree to the measure and approve the amendment via the correct procedures. Also, the increasing number of states means a shift in just how many states need to sign for that three-fourths majority. David A. Super, professor of law at Georgetown University has reviewed this possibility: "To change the Constitution, three-fourths of all states must ratify, or approve an amendment. .... Then there are real rollover problems from today's political voting disruptions, like vested interests interfering with electing candidates to the convention."  Super: Don't update constitution 2017 Yes, the fathers of the constitution faced these obstacles and ended up compromising and weakening the original constitution. There are obstacles to updating the constitution, but these can be overcome with common sense moral people.

Coleridge and Munger point out that: The first step [in updating the constitution] is to reject the dominant cultural narrative that we don't have the power or right to question our own Constitution. This narrative's points are familiar; one might say, "you can't possibly expect to do better than the genius 'founders' who produced the most democratic constitution ever written," or, "ordinary people aren't qualified to have this discussion." Others might say such a task is too radical, or say it is too hard to reach consensus, or, worse, that such a plot legitimizes those on the far-right who want a constitutional convention to abolish the Bill of Rights. These are elitist and anti-democratic views.  Coleridge: Time to re-vision the constitution 2020

This article is the first step to prepare the minds of people for updating the constitution! The information contained herein should be the responsibility of newspapers and the mass media.


Coleridge Greg and Jessica Munger, "The U.S. Constitution is hopelessly outdated. It’s time to re-envision it," Salon, December 10, 2020.  Coleridge: Time to re-vision the constitution 2020

Constitution of United States.  Constitution of United States

Gildman Norman, "Update the constitution, " The Huffington Post, June 18, 2011.  Gildman: Update constitution 2011

Kay Richard S., "Updating the Constitution: Amending, Tinkering, Interpreting," Drake Law Review, Vol. 67, No. 4, January 15, 2020.  Kay: updating the constitution 2020

Lawyer John, "The U.S. Constitution: Time to update, to ensure a functioning government," StarTribune, July 1, 2016.  Lawyer: Time to update dysfunctional government 2016

Lillebo, R. Paul, "Updating the Sacred(?) U.S. constitution," Blue Ridge Journal 2012.  Lillebo: Updating US constitution 2012.

Longley Robert, "Federalism and how it works," ThoughtCo, March 21, 2022.  Longley: How federalism works 2022

Longley Robert, "5 Ways to change the US constitution without the amendment process," ThoughtCo. July 02, 2021.  Longley: 5 ways to change constitution 2021

Lucas James W., "We need to update the second amendment," National Review, April 12, 2018.  Lucas: Update second amanedment 2018

Manley Tiffaney, "What are the requirements for running for congress?" UnitedStatesNow, May 30, 2022.  Manley: requirements for congress 2022

Pruitt Sarah, "How the U.S. Constitution has changed and expanded since 1787, History, September 16, 2020.  Pruitt: Constitutional changes since 1787 2020

Rest James R., "Moral Judgment Research and the Cognitive-Developmental Approach to Moral Education," The Personnel and Guidance Journal, May 1980.  Rest: moral judgment research 1980

Sexton Timothy, "Requirements for becoming a member of congress," Classroom, September 29, 2017.  Sexton: Congress requirements 2017

Sorochan Walter, "Levels of Education and reasoning: Why differences in misinformation, political differences and arguments?" Freegrab.net, March 16, 2022.  Sorochan: Levels of education and reasoning 2022

Super David A., "Don't even think about 'updating' the constitution," Chicago Trubine Commentary, May 19, 2017.  Super: Don't update constitution 2017

Vile John R., "Constitutional topic: Rewriting the constitution, U.S. Constitution.  Vile: Rewriting the constitution

Vile John R., Rewriting the United States Constitution: An Examination of Proposals from Reconstruction to the Present,  Thrift Books, 1991  Vile: Book: Review proposals to update constitution 1991

Yates Ronald E., "Are American voters stupid or just ill-informed?" October 19, 2020.  Yates: American voters 2020