July 1, 2009

Two Proposed Constitutional Amendments

While I'm very down on politics this morning, I'm not down at all on our Constitution, which I still think is a colossal monument to some of the best thinking about government that has ever been done. And one of the things that is so great about it is that the Framers did not anticipate that they were laying down rules to be set in stone for all time -- they invited future generations to consider modifying those rules to meet the needs and challenges of their time.

So I do not feel in the least bit bad about throwing out, for discussion, the above two amendments to the U.S. Constitution. I think they are good ideas. I welcome criticism, feedback, or proposed amendments. Readers, if you were in a position to vote on these ideas, would you sign off on them?

First, a proposal to modify the Presidential line of succession. Nancy Pelosi's recent public statements have convinced me that, in a worst-case scenario of both the President and Vice-President being taken out of office at the same time -- like if the bad guys drop one on the White House -- we must make absolutely sure that Speaker Pelosi does not become President Pelosi.

On a somewhat more serious note, the skill set that one needs to succeed in the House of Representatives, or any other large deliberative and legislative body, is significantly different than the skill set one needs to succeed as an executive leader. So setting the Presidential line of succession to pass through the top members of the two houses of Congress strikes me as unwise in today's world. So if the President and Vice President are "removed from office" (that is, killed at the same time) I would rather see an interrex take over for the purpose of calling a special election and letting the public pick a new President through the elective process.
Section 1:

In the event that the office of the President and the Vice President are simultaneously vacant, the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be the Acting President. While serving as Acting President, the Speaker shall not exercise or discharge any duty in Congress. The Speaker shall then set a date for a special election for persons to fill the remaining term of President and Vice President as soon as is practicable, and unless the United States be at war with another nation that election shall be not later than thirty days after the Speaker assumes the duties of Acting President.

The special election shall proceed according to the laws as set forth by Congress and the several states for regular elections of Presidential electors, excepting only the date of election of electors. The Electors shall meet within two weeks of the conclusion of the special election, and the results of their election shall be transmitted to Congress, where the results counted, within one week thereafter. Neither the Speaker nor any person who, having previously served six or more years' time as President of the United States, shall be eligible to receive any votes of the Electoral College in the special election.

The winner of the Electoral College shall become President, and thereafter shall take the oath of office, within one week’s time of Congress counting and announcing the results of the Electoral College. Upon the newly-elected President's assumption of office, the Speaker shall no longer be Acting President and shall resume service in Congress.

The President and Vice President thus elected shall serve the balance of the remaining term of office to which the previous President had been entitled to serve. If the newly-elected President’s term of service is greater than two years in duration, the President thus elected shall be eligible to run for re-election to a single four-year term as President thereafter.

Section 2:

Within ten days of assuming the office of President by any manner other than election, the President shall then nominate a new Vice President, who shall immediately assume the office of Acting Vice President and shall become Vice President unless a majority of the Senate shall object to the nomination within thirty days of the President’s nomination.

This section shall not be operative if the President assumes office within thirty days of the date set for the election of President of the United States.
Section 2 is in there because we've had some significant periods of time in our history in which the office of Vice President has been left vacant. My objective in this proposed amendment is to not allow the Speaker of the House -- who was elected by only a fraction of the citizens of a single state and who assumed this position of Constitutional prominence by virtue of doing whatever it takes to get ahead in Congress, which seems to be bringing home public largesse to particular localities in the nation and appealing to parochial rather than national concerns -- to execute the power of the Presidency for a significant period of time.

And second, while I'm thinking about tinkering around with the mechanisms and structures of our government, let me advance, again, my proposal to streamline the process of filling judicial vacancies, and imposing long term limits on federal judges. I anticipate that this would result in a federal judiciary that is very slightly more in step with the current ebb and flow of national politics, but still an institution insulated from the rough and tumble of day-to-day political battles.
Section 1:

The President shall appoint judges to the Supreme Court and to the lesser Courts of the United States by way of transmitting a nomination to the Senate. All judges thus appointed shall be citizens of the United States at the time of their appointment and shall not have been convicted of any felony or crime of moral turpitude. Any person thus appointed who, having been admitted ten years or more to practice law pursuant to the laws of any of the several States, shall assume the office thus appointed unless a majority of the Senate transmits to the President a request to advise and consent within thirty days after the President transmits the nomination. If the Senate thus acts, the Senate shall thereafter vote to confirm or reject the nomination within ninety days of the President’s nomination by majority vote, and if the Senate fails to confirm the nomination thereafter, the nomination shall be rejected.

Section 2:

All judges appointed to the Supreme Court and to the lesser Courts of the United States shall serve a term of eighteen years. Upon completion of this term, the judge thus appointed shall not be eligible for re-nomination to the same Court thereafter for a period of five years. Excepted, any person holding judicial office at the time of the adoption of this Amendment, whose term of service shall be unaffected thereby.
Not entirely coincidentally, eighteen years is both the amount of time set by Congress for full lifetime judicial pensions to vest and something close to the average term of actual service under the present regime of lifetime appointments.

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