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'Natural Born Citizen' and Other Constitutional Idiocies

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Texas Governor Greg Abbott is pushing nine constitutional amendments, and Ted Cruz wants one setting term limits for the Supreme Court and Congress, so I figured I'd roll out my own wish list. (Vox’s Dylan Matthews tweeted out the amendments he supports.) I couldn't reach Abbott's total. But I'm close:

1. The right to vote: It doesn’t appear in the Constitution. As Jamelle Bouie has argued, it should.

2. Statehood for the District of Columbia. There’s no legitimate justification for disenfranchising citizens in the U.S. capital. This can be fixed without an amendment, but the best way would be through the Constitution. 

3. As long as we have the Electoral College, get rid of the loopholes, mainly by getting rid of the electors. Each state’s electoral votes should automatically be cast for the candidate who wins them according to the laws of that state. I’d include wording to make it clear that the state must hold an election and apportion the electoral votes based on whatever the rules were going in. Eliminate both the problem of disloyal electors and the chance that a state legislature would change the rules after the fact (or even, as they can do now under the current wording of the Constitution, cancel the election entirely and appoint electors themselves).

4. Eliminate the “natural born citizen” requirement for presidents. Any citizen should be eligible; I trust voters (and the parties and the press) to avoid electing a disloyal immigrant president as much as I trust them to avoid other poor choices.

5. Remove the minimum age requirements for federal office. John Seery explains.  I don't worry that voters would elect a 15-year-old president. But as Seery argues, full citizenship means the opportunity to govern as well as to be governed. 

Two more to think about:

1. Term limits for Supreme Court justices -- probably 18-year terms, staggered so that one opening comes up every two years. I can see arguments for and against -- but if we did it, the amendment should formally set the nine-justice limit, ending the possibility of future court-packing (currently there's no constitutional provision specifying the court's size).

2. Public financing of elections. Don't require it, but make it clear it's allowed. I oppose amendments to restrict private money to candidates and parties, or to restrict what parties can do with their money, but I support partial public financing -- and fear the court may rule against it in the future. 

This one is even more unlikely than the others, and deserves its own category:

1. Address the malapportionment of the Senate. There's no justification in democratic theory for giving Wyoming (population of less than 600,000) the same number of senators as California (population: 40 million) has. But absolute proportionality isn't necessary, and the Senate should stay small. Suppose we keep two senators for each state, but weigh their votes differently. Wyoming's senators would each get half a vote, for example, for a total of one, and California's two senators would be given five each -- 10 total. Alas, Article V of the Constitution guarantees "that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate." And Wyoming, Vermont and the Dakotas will make sure it stays that way. 

  1. At least not without becoming trivial. The 27th amendment concerning congressional pay has no business in the Constitution, but I wouldn't bother to repeal it. 

  2. I also support legislation to lower the voting age, but don't think the Constitution is the place to do it. 

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Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net