As usual, the Constitution is getting a lot of debate as the presidential campaign season starts, and for the 2016 election, more than a few candidates want some new constitutional amendments.
For example, the standing of the 14th Amendment’s Citizenship Clause is a current debate topic among Republican candidates, while an amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s campaign financing decision is popular among Democrats.
And there are calls from various candidates for amendments to force Congress to maintain a balanced budget, to allow states to ban same-sex marriages, to repeal Obamacare, and to force Congress to have term limits for its members.
That sounds like a lot of constitutional change in a short period of time, but with the very high bar set by the Constitution for amendments, these efforts face long odds of immediate success.
The Constitution’s Article V requires that two-thirds of the House and Senate approve an amendment, followed by three-quarters of the states, or that two-thirds of the States can propose an amendment, again followed by three-quarters of the states ratifying it.
That’s why of the nearly 12,000 amendments proposed in Congress since 1789, only 27 have been approved by Congress and the states. Of 842 amendments proposed since 1991, not one has been ratified. In 1992, the 27th Amendment was ratified by the states, but only after it was first proposed back in 1789!
However, some proposed amendments or issues involved in future amendments were part of historic presidential campaigns. In 1860, the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision played a central role in Abraham Lincoln’s campaign against three opponents. The post-Civil War amendments addressing slavery and the rights of freed slaves repudiated the Dred Scott decision.
Likewise, the issues of starting Prohibition and ending Prohibition were important broad topics addressed in the 1916 and 1932 elections, while Republicans asked for term limits for Presidents in the 1944 election.
Here is a quick look at public statements made by current presidential candidates about proposed constitutional amendments:
The 14th Amendment and Birthright Citizenship. The debate over how courts consider illegal immigrants born in the United States as citizens has heated up in the past week. GOP front runner Donald Trump believes that illegal immigrants born in the United States can be deported under an interpretation of the law, and not under a change to the 14th Amendment’s Citizenship Clause. “It’s a long process, and I think it would take too long,” Trump told Fox News about pursuing a birthright citizenship amendment. Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and Bobby Jindal are among the GOP candidates who oppose birthright citizenship, while Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina are against a constitutional change or ending birthright citizenship through statutes.
Campaign finance. Senator Bernie Sanders has already introduced a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United in Congress. Hillary Clinton also has voiced her support for a similar amendment and has said that any Supreme Court nominee must pass a “Citizens United” litmus test in her administration.
Same-sex marriage. Republican candidates Scott Walker and Ted Cruz want an amendment to allow individual states to determine if they will allow same-sex marriages. Rick Santorum has called for an amendment banning same-sex marriages, while Marco Rubio opposes such an amendment.
Obamacare. Rubio have said in the past he supports a constitutional amendment to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, while Cruz and others support a law passed by Congress to achieve the same goals.
Balanced budget. Many of the GOP candidates are on record as supporting a balanced budget amendment, including Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Rick Santorum.
Right To Vote. Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley said in early August that he wants a constitutional amendment to “to protect every citizen’s right to vote.”
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