Amending the Constitution

The ultimate measure of a constitution is how it balances entrenchment and change. On the one hand, a constitution differs from all other laws in that it is much more difficult to revise. For example, the next session of Congress can amend or repeal a statute, but altering the U.S. Constitution requires a complex process involving supermajorities of both houses of Congress and the states. A constitution thus reflects a desire to place a society’s core values of governance – such as the structure of government and the rights of individuals – in a document that is hard to revise. By enacting a constitution, society limits itself in an effort to protect the values it most cherishes. For a constitution to achieve this goal it must endure. But in order for a constitution to endure, it must contain mechanisms for adaptation to changing circumstances. Changes in social organization, in technology, and in morality all require that the constitution evolve. The agrarian slave society of 1787 is so vastly different from the world of the coming twenty-first century that it is unthinkable that the understandings of 200 years ago could solely govern modem society. Those drafting a constitution cannot possibly imagine the myriad of issues that will arise decades and centuries later.