Bipartisan Panel Urges Care on Amendments

By Scully, Sean | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 14, 1999 | Go to article overview

Bipartisan Panel Urges Care on Amendments


Scully, Sean, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Congress should loosen the grip of "amendmentitis" and think more carefully before voting on efforts to change the Constitution, members of a bipartisan think tank argued yesterday.

"We need to be very cautious, very careful, show great restraint when we start tinkering with the founding document," said former Rep. Mickey Edwards, Oklahoma Republican and a contributor to the Constitution Project.

The project, funded by the Washington-based Century Foundation, yesterday published a series of eight "guidelines" for constitutional amendments.

The group recommended, for example, that "constitutional amendments should address matters of more than immediate concern that are likely to be recognized as of abiding importance by subsequent generations."

It also recommended that sponsors of amendments should consider every other legal alternative before proposing a constitutional change, that amendments should "not make our system less politically responsive" and that amendments be specific and enforceable rather than "purely aspirational."

"If the sponsors think about all those things and decide it is necessary, then perhaps it is necessary," said Louis Michael Seidman, law professor at Georgetown University and legal adviser to the project. "But we're afraid there hasn't been enough serious thought" behind recent proposed amendments.

Members of the group say they are not out to kill any specific constitutional amendments, but they were critical of some recent efforts.

The proposed amendment to ban desecration of the U.S. flag, for example, is probably not a good idea because it seeks to ban something that is not a serious problem and tampers with the notion of free speech, said former Rep. Abner Mikva, Illinois Democrat, and a former White House counsel.

"Is that really worth changing this basic document," he asked.

Congress has considered a flurry of other amendments in recent years, including amendments that would require a balanced budget, require a supermajority to raise taxes, impose term limits on members of Congress and clarify religious liberty.

"Republicans got caught up in their own rhetoric," said Mr. Edwards, a member of the GOP House leadership until his defeat in 1992. When they were the minority party, "they came up with shortcuts because they thought there was no way they could ever gain control. Now they are trapped by those speeches they gave" and feel compelled to debate the proposed amendments.

Members of the Constitution Project say they don't expect Congress to adopt their guidelines. Instead, they simply want to raise some questions for legislators, reporters and the public to consider when amendments are proposed. …

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