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Top 7 Criticisms of the U.S. Constitution (and Intended Solutions)

Tim Truzy is a rehabilitation counselor, educator, and former dispatcher from North Carolina.

The US Constitution is still useful.

The US Constitution is still useful.

Debates About the Constitution

The supreme law of America is the Constitution. Ratified in 1787, the document is fundamental to an effective political union between the states and federal government in a constitutional presidential republic. Furthermore, the national government is separated into three parts which normally function peacefully together. Those branches of the national government are:

  • Congress is the law making body. Congress is composed of two parts: the Senate and the House of Representatives.
  • The president and his cabinet form the Executive branch.
  • The judiciary branch is led by the Supreme Court.

The Constitution’s creators, the Founding Fathers, gave each branch checks and balances to safeguard citizens while neutralizing excessive power. Occasionally, the constitutional system seems to be unbalanced. Questions arise: Should we have term limits? Do we need a Constitution?

For these reasons, I’ve taught social studies’ classes because Americans must understand how their government works. I’ve indicated the most common problems people have cited with the Constitution along with ramifications for the American political system in this article.

Congress meets in Washington D.C. in the Capitol Building.

Congress meets in Washington D.C. in the Capitol Building.

1. America Needs a Monarchy

Opponents of the Constitution frequently state America should establish a monarchy. However, Americans rejected royal rule during the American Revolution of 1783. In general, every legal citizen has the right to run for elected offices because “All men are created equal,” expressed in the Declaration of Independence of 1776. Moreover, Article I of the Constitution indicates federal employees cannot accept gifts from foreign countries, and the U.S. government cannot establish titles of nobility. This section of the Constitution is referred to as the Foreign Emoluments Clause.

2. America doesn't need a Constitution.

Some democratic nations lack constitutions. Critics point out unrest in these countries remains at acceptable levels. Since Americans share similar concepts about elections, the justice system, and passing legislation, a constitution is irrelevant in this view. Yet, countries without written laws have unique challenges.

Essentially, parties can change acceptable political norms and legal procedures with minimum input. In colonial America, people were often sent to jail without any legal recourse. The Founding Fathers avoided this issue by having a written text for all to read and reach reasonable conclusions. Basically, a person cannot be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process. This Clause appears twice in the Constitution, found in the 5th and 14th Amendments. History has shown the Constitution is reliable for tackling legal issues.

3. The Constitution Is Illegal

Another criticism of the Constitution pertains to legitimacy. Created by the Continental Congress, the Articles of Confederation was the first governing document of America. States acted as independent countries because there wasn’t a strong federal government. At the convention in Philadelphia in 1787, representatives met to revise the Articles of Confederation. Attempts at revision proved futile, causing the representatives to abandon the articles to write a better text for government, the Constitution. While the Articles of Confederation were not unifying, the mechanism for amending the Constitution allow the population to address deficits in our national government, strengthening the document’s validity. Ironically, the Constitution cannot be declared illegal by conventions, the federal government, or state governments.

4. The U.S. Constitution Is Old

The United States’ Constitution is the oldest codified functioning constitution on Earth. But Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), thought the Constitution should be revised each generation. Indeed, studies show the average life span of a constitution is about two decades with rushed drafting and desire for immediate political change cited as reasons for frequent turnover. In addition, many nations with a written body of law may not support democratic traditions or institutions. In other words, age of a constitution is less important than the will of the people to apply the principles therein.

The Supreme Court decides if a law is Constitutional.

The Supreme Court decides if a law is Constitutional.

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5. The Supreme Court Is Politicized

An argument states the Supreme Court is too politicized. Justices are appointed by the president, pending Senate confirmation. Supreme Court Justices usually serve for life without experiencing a reduction in salary. A lifelong term safeguards justices from political pressures. Truly, conservatives and liberals alike have been stunned throughout the republic’s history by rulings made by Supreme Court justices. In essence, the process is political, but the long-term consequences are not predictable.

6. The Constitution Favors the Wealthy

The American Revolution was led by a tiny group of wealthy men, including the Founding Fathers. Critics argue the Constitution is designed to protect a rich minority, which means it is not applicable to others. However, scholars note after the American Civil War (1861-1865), the concept of minority expanded to mean any group in substantially smaller numbers than the majority. In fact, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were passed between 1865 and 1870, guaranteeing enslaved people freedom and the right to vote. Also, in 1920, women began to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment. More examples showing the Constitution is relevant for every American follow:

  • 4th Amendment: This amendment safeguards privacy from unreasonable seizure of property and searches by the government. Warrants require probable cause to be issued; arrests must be specific.
  • 5th and 6th Amendment: A person has the right to remain silent and seek legal counsel. In 1966, the Supreme Court ruled legal rights cannot be exercised if a person is unaware of them.
  • 14th Amendment: All citizens have equal protections under the law.

7. States and the Federal Government Constantly Bicker

Critics point out conflict between states and the federal government are rampant due to the Constitution's structure. But movements can begin through grassroots efforts (Black Lives matter) or work from the national government downward (Great Society Programs). In other words, democratic changes seldom originate in a single manner, which was part of the intent of the document. Incidentally, states cannot leave the Union arbitrarily or pass a law superseding a federal one. In spite of different interpretations of the 10th Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled succession unconstitutional in 1869.

The Constitution defines power sharing between states and the federal government.

The Constitution defines power sharing between states and the federal government.

The Future of the U.S. Constitution

In conclusion, the Constitution of the United States is admirable and flexible. The Founding Fathers indicated the document is meant to help form a “more perfect Union” stated in the Preamble. Furthermore, they recognized the Constitution may require updating. Therefore, constitutional conventions can take place, allowing amendments to start in the states or Congress. Finally, we can recognize imperfect men wrote a solid guiding tool for government. Examples of changes the nation has seen since the honorable document was ratified are:

Changes to the Federal Government and the Constitution Over the Years

  • Amendments: The Bill of Rights consists of the first ten amendments. These amendments were added to the text after members of the first Constitutional convention had concerns, including: freedom of religion, speech, and the press. The Constitution has been amended 27 times.
  • Number of Supreme Court Justices: The court has had as many as ten justices, but the number currently stands at nine as of 1869. Although the Constitution does not describe the organization of the judiciary branch, Congress and the justices on the highest court developed a federal body of law and the national judiciary system over the centuries.
  • Prohibition: In 1919, the 18th Amendment ended alcohol sales in America. In 1933, the 21st Amendment repealed it. The Commerce Clause in Article I of the Constitution was sparingly used until the passage of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, and it gradually gained support.
  • Term-limitations: For most of America’s history, presidents could serve as many terms as possible if they could win elections. In 1951, the 22nd Amendment was ratified to limit presidents to serving two four-year terms after Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president, died in office during his fourth term.
  • The Electoral College: The Electoral College is important for presidential elections. In July of 2020, the Supreme Court ruled electors must vote as directed by their state.
The U.S. Constitution is kept at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Constitution is kept at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

References

Barton, D. (2011). Original intent: The courts, the Constitution & religion. Aledo, TX: WallBuilder Press.

Beeman, R. R. (2010). Plain, honest men: The making of the American Constitution. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks.

Wood, G. S. (1993). The creation of the American republic, 1776-1787. New York: W.W. Norton.

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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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