Amherst League of Women Voters

A Voice for Citizens, a Force for Change

LWVUS Study on Amending the U.S. Constitution

Amending the U.S. Constitution is a very large topic, and not an area for which the LWVUS has any consistent set of guidelines. Perhaps disillusioned with the fate of the ERA, the League has shied away from supporting any constitutional amendment to deal with the problems of campaign finance, even as the Supreme Court has systematically eliminated almost all protections suggested by the Congress (and supported by the League) in the last forty years.

While we who have been working on campaign finance for many years may regret the decision of the LWVUS board to separate a study of amending the Constitution from a review of the League’s position on money in politics during the 1914-1916 biennium, still the first of these studies does offer us an opportunity to hone our arguments in favor of, or against, the proposed amendments.

An informational meeting is planned for November 10, starting at 12:30 p.m. in the Woodbury Room of the Jones Library. The consensus questions are divided into three parts, dealing with considerations for evaluating amendment proposals, proposals for an Article V convention, and a third section on balancing League positions with imperfect proposals. Presenters will review the materials provided in the more detailed study guide (scroll to bottom to find downloadable PDF), and the remainder of the time will be devoted to discussion. Members of the Northampton League plan to join this meeting, which is also open to the public.

The LWVA consensus meeting will be held on November 18, starting a 7 p.m. in the Bangs Center (lower level). All LWVA members are encouraged to participate. Those who were unable to attend the informational meeting on November 10 are encouraged to read through the study guide and some of its references before November 18.

Additional background materials for the study are found on the LWVUS web site. Of particular interest are:

  • Great and Extraordinary Occasions: Developing Guidelines for Constitutional Change is a paper developed by a long list of eminent lawyers and scholars. It presents eight guidelines for constitutional amendments and analyzes historical amendments as well as contemporaneous proposals (those discussed during the 104th and 105th Congresses, 1995 - 1999) against these guidelines.
  • Constitutional Amendmentitis by Kathleen Sullivan first appeared in the December 19, 2001, issue of The American Prospect. For the author, “there are strong structural reasons for amending the Constitution only reluctantly and as a last resort.”
  • Constitutional Amendments and the Constitutional Common Law, written by Professor Adrian Vermeule, Professor of Law at the University of Chicago in 2004, critiques the position attributed to Kathleen Sullivan and others that there should be a general presumption against amending the Constitution. He argues that such a view favors constitutional change through court decisions as opposed to constitutional amendments. This court-centered alternative to the amendment process is effectively “an ongoing constitutional convention whose delegates are all judges (and hence all lawyers)”, presenting its own perils.
  • Finally, this page and this one provide links to several papers on Article V conventions.
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