Q. Explain the factors which make it difficult to amend the US Constitution (15 marks) To amend the US Constitution, a bill has to go through a two-stage process: proposal and ratification. The proposal stage has to have two thirds majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Every successful amendment has started this way and even the failed ones. A proposal can also be made by a Constitutional convention, which is a one-off body which is put together for a specific purpose, and this is called by Congress on petition by two thirds of the states. This method has never been used. The problem with this proposal method is that the Constitution doesn’t state how it should be done and there is no mechanism. There are, however, implications for proposals. The Democrats and Republicans are needed for amendment proposals to succeed, so this means one party simply cannot enforce and support a proposal. There needs to be a consensus.
This means that this ‘implication’ can bring about bipartisanship, so this means both parties can find a common ground and work together to pass the legislation. An example of bipartisan support is the Flag Desecration Amendment. This was an amendment that had plenty of bipartisan support but not enough because it fell short of one vote. It was argued that flag desecration was removing people’s rights (such as freedom of speech) and Senators and Politicians generally dislike remove people’s rights. This is the same for the ban on gay marriage as the Constitution shouldn’t tell people how to lead their lives. Newt Gingrich had proposed that public schools should have prayers (which were more likely to be Christian prayers) but this would have removed rights such as freedom of religion, therefore limiting people’s rights.
After the proposal stage, there then is the ratification stage. Once a bill passes this stage, it is an amendment. In the ratification stage, the proposed bill has to be approved by legislatures in three quarters of the states or it can be approved by state conventions called in three quarters of the states. The 21st Amendment, the repeal of the prohibition on alcohol, is the only amendment to have gone through the latter ratification method. However, there are implications for ratification. Thirty-eight states are needed for ratification. The problem with this is that there are huge variations in political culture of states-the South is known to be Conservative, North East or West Coast is known to be liberal/Cosmopolitan, North is known to be urban and industrial and the Midwest is known to be rural and agricultural.
Therefore, with the differences in political culture, there are demands for a nationwide consensus which can prove difficult. An example of this was the Equal Rights Act which failed to pass the ratification stage as it was 3 states shy of the 38 needed to pass the ratification stage. It was argued that there was already the 14th Amendment which states the Equal Opportunities Act. But the Equal Rights Act failed because it ran out of time- there was a 7 year time limit and it took 10 years. The amendment process takes place contemporaneously, meaning it is based on issues happening at the moment. There was also an economic factor which was said to prevent this Act from passing. Big businesses would have had to pay out more to ensure both male and females received equal pay.
Often these corporate companies would have connections to politicians themselves, to oppose the Act because the businesses had access to them and pressure groups did not. The pressure groups weren’t as powerful as their opponents. The Judiciary and President formally have no part in the process. However, the President can have an influence over it. But he has no power or right in the amendment process. It can be said the Founding Fathers have made the amendment process difficult because they wanted to protect the constitution and the rights of citizens against over mighty governments and ambitious politicians. It was to also guard against the oppression of a majority, or even a minority. Compared with the British Constitution, where Parliament can amend the constitution with a simple Act of Parliament, the US Constitution is more difficult because major constitutional changes can only take place if there is a broad consensus both in Congress and across the various states.