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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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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