Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Slate

September 18, 2012

Slate: What's next for the U.S. Constitution?

Monday marked the 225th anniversary of the Constitution of the United States, publicly unveiled in Philadelphia amid considerable fanfare. As Americans think back on the last two and a quarter centuries, we should also think ahead by the same amount. What will and what should the Constitution look like 200 years hence? Or if that seems too mind-bendingly futuristic, what will and should it look like in 2020 or 2121?

The most powerful portents of the future are to be found in America's existing state constitutions, the proverbial laboratories of American democracy. These 50 documents have converged to form a distinctly American model of governance — call it "American exceptionalism," if you like. For example, unlike the regimes in various democratic countries around the world — England, Germany, France, Israel, India, Australia — almost all 50 states follow the same basic formula, featuring ratified written constitutions, bicameral legislatures, chief executives who look remarkably like mini-presidents and robust bills of rights enforceable in ordinary courtrooms.

This is our basic American model, and it's not going anywhere. Proposals to amend the federal Constitution are taken seriously when they fit within this framework — and especially when they have already been adopted and road-tested by the states. A brief history lesson: The federal Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791, tracked various pre-existing state bills of rights; the federal Reconstruction Amendments of the 1860s, ending slavery and protecting free blacks, borrowed from the best constitutional practices of antebellum free states; and the federal Woman Suffrage Amendment prevailed at the continental level in 1920 only after women had won the vote under many state constitutions.

Indeed, the Philadelphia Constitution of 1787 to which we wish happy birthday was itself built upon state constitutional templates. In their decision to put the federal Constitution to a special ratification vote of the people, the framers copied the models of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 and the New Hampshire Constitution of 1784. The idea of a federal census borrowed from the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 and the New York Constitution of 1777. The elimination of property qualifications for federal public servants likewise borrowed from Pennsylvania, as did provisions for all federal lawmakers to be compensated from the public fisc. The broad outlines of executive power combined the best of the Massachusetts and New York constitutions. Various elements of judicial independence drew upon state antecedents, as did the U.S. Constitution's basic commitment to trial by jury.

Text Only
Slate
  • Cuba is running out of condoms

    The newest item on Cuba's list of dwindling commodities is condoms, which are now reportedly in short supply. In response, the Cuban government has approved the sale of expired condoms.

    April 23, 2014

  • Cats outsmart the researchers

    I knew a lot had been written about dogs, and I assumed there must be at least a handful of studies on cats. But after weeks of scouring the scientific world for someone - anyone - who studied how cats think, all I was left with was this statement, laughed over the phone to me by one of the world's top animal cognition experts, a Hungarian scientist named Ádám Miklósi.

    April 23, 2014

  • The top 12 government programs ever

    Which federal programs and policies succeed in being cost-effective and targeting those who need them most? These two tests are obvious: After all, why would we spend taxpayers' money on a program that isn't worth what it costs or helps those who do not need help?

    April 23, 2014

  • Do White Castle prices tell us anything about the minimum wage?

    The paper looked at how many delicious steamed sliders the minimum wage has been able to purchase over time. The point is that as it notes, in 1981, the $3.35 minimum could buy a whole dozen. Today, at $7.25, it could purchase just 10.

    April 22, 2014

  • Do your genes make you procrastinate?

    Procrastinators, in my experience, like nothing better than explaining away their procrastination: General busyness, fear of failure, and simple laziness are just a handful of the excuses and theories often tossed around. Now researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder have added another option to the list: genetics.

    April 22, 2014

  • The case for separate beds

    The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
    It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.

    April 18, 2014

  • Allergies are the real midlife crisis

    One of the biggest mysteries is why the disease comes and goes, and then comes and goes again. People tend to experience intense allergies between the ages of 5 and 16, then get a couple of decades off before the symptoms return in the 30s, only to diminish around retirement age.

    April 16, 2014

  • treadmill-very-fast.jpg Tax deduction for a gym membership?

    April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. So why shouldn't the tax code be revised to reward preventive health?

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Boston doctors can now prescribe you a bike

    The City of Boston this week is rolling out a new program that's whimsically known as "Prescribe-a-Bike." Part medicine, part welfare, the initiative allows doctors at Boston Medical Center to write "prescriptions" for low-income patients to get yearlong memberships to Hubway, the city's bike-share system, for only $5.

    April 11, 2014

  • A man with amnesia taught us how memories become personal

    Although not as celebrated as the late American amnesiac H.M., for my money K.C. taught us more important and poignant things about how memory works. He showed how we make memories personal and personally meaningful. He also had a heck of a life story.

    April 7, 2014