Constitution writing is a thought experiment I engage in from time to time. While I’ve never written out an entire theoretical constitution of my own, I do have a number of ideas about how ours works/doesn’t work, and how it could be improved. Thankfully, it has a built-in mechanism for upgrades, in the form of Amendments, that can clarify or outright change sections of the original document. Here are a few Amendment ideas I’ve kicked around, knowing full well that they would almost likely never get so much as a laughing dismissal by any of the avenues to make them reality.
Presidential Fitness Amendment
I. No person shall be eligible to the Office of President who shall have attained to the age of seventy years at the time of their inauguration.
II. No person shall be eligible to stand for general election to or assume the Office of President or Vice President who has not released to the public their personal and business tax records for the past seven years.
III. No person shall be eligible to stand for general election to or assume the Office of President or Vice President who has not released to the public a full medical evaluation from a panel of no less than six and no more than twelve qualified and accredited medical doctors in good professional standing.
IV. The House of Representatives shall have the sole authority to determine the members of this panel.
On its face, this seems like a complete rebuke of Trump, the oldest person ever sworn in as a first-term President. However, it would also exclude a number of Democratic candidates for 2020, notably Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well as making Joe Biden’s decision easy. Yes, Trump’s refusal to disclose his financial reports and the sham of having a quack doctor sign off on his health are in there as well, but I can also cite FDR and JFK in the “medical history maybe voters would have liked to have known about” files, as well as Nixon’s tax woes. Having a panel of reputable doctors make a full assessment means we get fair and impartial medical data, not the say-so of some family friend, and having open tax records would give us some sense if a Presidential hopeful is, in fact, a crook (spoiler alert: probably).
Presidenting is a difficult job, or, at least, it should be. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama aged 20 years during their 8-year residencies at 1600 Pennsylvania, so maybe electing a guy who’s 78 isn’t the best idea. We haven’t developed a cure for aging yet, and Sanders, assuming he doesn’t try to stay limber on the golf course for most of his first term, could be reasonably expected to age another 10 years by the end of his first term. The average life expectancy for an American man is… 78 years. Sanders, if elected, will already be beating the curve on Day 1, and taking on a job that is going to age him more than twice as fast.
The effect is that if you’re 70 at the point you’d be sworn in, you can’t be President (or Vice President). 69 years, 364 days? Go for it. Same if you don’t release your tax returns. And you have to have a medical evaluation by the nation’s top doctors. The carved-out exception here is that someone who is 70+ could run and be elected to be Vice President, but they would be passed over in the line of succession, as would a foreign-born Speaker of the House or a 34-year-old Secretary of State.
Excluding the VP from Section 1 is the recognition that Vice President is not simply a John Adams-style emergency successor, but more of a Dick Cheney/Joe Biden senior advisor to the President. Of course, it probably wouldn’t take long for Old White Men to run for “Vice President” at the top of the ticket, but hey, it’s a start.
Further, this would push the realistic age for Presidential hopefuls down to 65 – if you turn 66 before you take office for your first term, you don’t get to run for a second term because you’d be over 70 prior to being sworn in. Presidential terms are only four years, which means winning a second term requires another inauguration.
This would work well with a repeal of the 22nd Amendment. Get rid of term limits – Someone being elected to their first term the year they turn 35 would only be able to serve a maximum of 9 terms under this plan. Yes, that is a long time, but with an average age of just over 55 years when taking office, we’re talking about an average eligibility for 4 terms. And that still requires winning every four years.
Like Reagan, I am deeply opposed to term limits. We already have them, we just call them elections. That line of thinking supposes transparent and unmarred elections, but in theory, at least, giving someone the opportunity to run for and win the Presidency 9 times should only be constrained by the electorate. One could make the argument that I’m imposing a term limit here, and that’s fair, but I see it more as enforcing a retirement age, not so much a term limit. You don’t get to hold the launch codes when you should be holding a Bingo stamp.
So yeah, it may seem like my Amendment is a direct response to Trump, but I’m also proposing allowing Don Jr. to serve six terms.
Congressional Representation Equality Amendment
I. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states by population, using half the population of the least populous state as the maximum size of a Congressional district.
Yes, this would increase the House of Representatives to (currently) 1,118 (1,155+ by 2020) members. But each would be representing only ~209,000 – ~289,000 people each, instead of the current ~578,000 – ~994,000. Yes, that’s right, Montana’s one Representative represents nearly twice as many people as Wyoming’s one Representative. By way of comparison, when the Constitution was ratified, Pennsylvania’s eight Representatives each represented roughly 54,000 people. Having fewer people per Representative means that Representative is more beholden to the people.
Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution and subsequent Supreme Court rulings in the 1960s puts a floor on the number of people a district can contain, that being 30,000. This would add a ceiling, affording the state with the smallest population two Representatives and using that as the maximum size. Currently, that would mean Wyoming’s ~578,000 people would have two Reps, each representing ~289,000 people. There would still be some disparity in district sizes, because the next smallest state, Vermont, has ~626,000 people, meaning it would get three seats each comprised of ~209,000 people.
I. All representative districting plans shall consist of: districts composed of compact and contiguous territory; as nearly equal in population as practicable; and which do not divide any county, city, incorporated town, borough, township, or ward, except where necessary to ensure equality of population.
This one dovetails neatly into the previous one. Smaller, more competitive districts nationwide. This Amendment would also not simply concern itself with House representation, this would affect any representative (small r) districting plan – state assemblies and senates. The text is lifted almost verbatim from League of Women Voters, et al. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the PA Supreme Court case that completely redrew the Congressional map in PA to eliminate the 2nd most gerrymandered map in the country.