by Chris Bowers, Wed Jun 09, 2004 at 09:46:21 AM EDT
While these attempts to amend the constitution are the most famous because they are the most recent, since 1789 there have been more than 10,000 attempts to amend the constitution (warning: PDF file). Lately, conservatives have come to dominate these proposals, to the extent that it would appear any bill Republicans attempt to pass in Congress takes place only after they first tried to pass it as a Constitutional amendment. However, conservatives did not always hold sway over this type of activity. The Equal Rights Amendment was a particularly famous example of liberals attempting to amend the constitution. In the early twentieth century, progressive reformers worked not only to pass an amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote, but also the right of Congress to regulate labor for those under the age of 18, and to ban any state from funding parochial schools. More recently, in 1985 a constitutional amendment working to give full congressional representation to the District of Columbia failed, perhaps marking the end of an era of liberal attempts to amend the constitution.
Perhaps because amending the constitution has been branded as a conservative idea, when progressives (or John Kerry) talk, for example, about health care as "a right of every American," this discussion rarely, if ever, leads toward the idea of a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right of health care. When we talk about gender-neutral marriage, equal access to adoption, inheritance and protection from legal discrimination in the workplace for homosexuals as equal rights, we rarely, if ever, talk about amending the constitution to guarantee these rights. When we complain about the legal status of corporations as individuals, once again changing this situation rarely, if ever, leads to a discussion of amending the constitution to redefine the legal status of corporations.
My question is, why not? Are we on the left just so damn opposed to anything conservatives do that we refuse to even use their perfectly legal tactics both in articulating their platform and attempting to enshrine that platform in law? Perhaps it is time for progressives to fight back on the constitutional amendment front. Proposing amendments to the constitution would help clarify the progressive agenda to the rest of the country. It would also provide us with a long-term vision for where we would like to take the nation that would serve as a powerful contrast to the conservative view of the future (which, more often than not, is an attempt to reinstate some mythical version of the past). If nothing else, proposing new amendments could go a long way toward raising the level of public debate in this country.
- The right to vote
- The right to public education
- The right to health care of equal and high quality
- The right to affordable housing
- The right to a clean, safe and sustainable environment
- The right to employment
- Equal rights for women
- Guaranteed progressive taxation