Oodles of amendments

July 13, 2009
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I recently spent a few days in San Francisco and I heard a startling fact: the California Constitution has been amended something like 512 times. The information came via an editorial running on a local news station. I managed to catch it in bits and pieces over the course of my visit.

The editorial compared that state’s constitution with the U.S. Constitution in that it’s only been amended 27 times in its history. This got my legal and journalistic wheels turning, so I did a little research when I got home.

It’s much easier to amend the California Constitution than it is for Hoosiers to amend ours, or the U.S. Constitution. In California, two-thirds of the Assembly and State Senate have to vote on the amendment to add it to the ballot. Voters can also get an amendment on the ballot by procuring at a number of signatures equal to at least 8 percent of the votes cast for all the candidates in the last gubernatorial race.

The pro of this method: the general public can have a say in how their constitution is amended. The con of this method: so do interest groups with a lot of money who can gather enough signatures to forward their agenda.

Once on the ballot, an amendment needs 50 percent plus one of those voting to be enacted.

In Indiana, Article 16 says an amendment needs to be agreed to by a majority of the members in each of the houses and then referred to the next elected General Assembly. If the next one agrees to it by a majority vote, the amendment is submitted to the voters at the next general election. If a majority of voters agree to it, it becomes part of our constitution.

Indiana’s constitution hasn’t been amended nearly as much as California’s. I can’t exactly remember what the editorial said (and I haven’t been able to find it online to review), but the gist of it was questioning what Californians are doing by adding all these amendments and that this has got to stop. I’m going to assume this editorial was a result of Proposition 8, the latest amendment to their constitution. Tens of millions of dollars were spent by interest groups lobbying for or against the amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

While it seems appealing to have a more accessible way for the voting public to amend the constitution, it results in numerous amendments. Is it better or worse for voters, legislators, and judges to allow the general public a fairly easy way to amend their constitution? Imagine how different Indiana’s Constitution, or the U.S. Constitution, would be if the same process used in California were the law of the land.
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