Taking Another Look At The Constitutional Blueprint


What an oddity that we limit the President to two terms but do not limit the tenure of anyone else in the federal government! Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life. We honor representatives and senators who have somehow pleased their constituents enough to last thirty, even forty years on the Hill. Why should we applaud congressional octogenarians as they lead the way in making mandatory retirement at any age illegal yet tolerate a constitutional provision that could involuntarily retire a middle-aged President whom the American people might want to reelect?

The possibility of continuity in the executive office is an important source of stability in a democratic state, which the Founding Fathers understood. The strange machinery they created for electing a President in the first place might well be obsolete, but on a President’s reelectability the Founding Fathers were right. Repeal the Twenty-second Amendment.

-Robert L. Beisner Chairman, Department of History, American University.

Lift the Ban on Foreign-Born Parents

However valid in 1787 the concerns that induced the Constitutional Convention to limit presidential eligibility to “a natural born Citizen...,” time and the unfolding of American history have deprived the rule of all meaning and dignity.

“My fellow immigrants,” was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s salute in 1938 to the Daughters of the American Revolution. He spoke figuratively; yet his jest bore the truth. We are, if not a nation of refugees, a people to whom place of origin has come, more and more, to carry only anecdotal significance.

I have no candidate in mind—although the clause has rendered ineligible, among others, such politically diverse public figures as Carl Schurz, Felix Frankfurter, and Henry Luce.

Nor does elimination of the bar seem worth the discombobulation of a full-scale amendment. But the next time we undertake a substantial adjustment of our national charter, perhaps we could add, as what the legislators call an outside election, a sentence or two eliminating the restriction. That would be a fine way to show that we recognize our collective origin.

-Hiller B. Zobel Associate Justice, Massachusetts Superior Court.

My answer is obvious: That clause that excludes Canadians and others of foreign birth from the Presidency and, possibly, from the Vice-Presidency as well. My whole life was altered, as also, quite clearly, was the history of the Republic. Henry Kissinger, I cannot doubt, vociferously agrees.

-John Kenneth Galbraith Powell M. Warburg Professor of Economics Emeritus, Harvard University.

Make It Six Years

I would amend the Constitution to give the President one term of six years—no more. Why? No Watergate, for one thing. As Andrew Jackson contended—and it was he, after all, who proposed such an amendment during his own Presidency —it would reduce the likelihood of corruption; the President wouldn’t spend most of his first term trying to get elected for a second. It is such a waste of time, money, and energy. And most of them, fortunately, don’t succeed in winning a second term anyway.

-Robert V. Remini Professor of History, University of Illinois at Chicago. Author of Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy.

Tame the Supreme Court

Among the especially significant provisions of the U.S. Constitution is one that many politicians today prefer to ignore: Article III, Section 2. It is precisely this provision that the late Sen. Sam J. Ervin, Jr., and I repeatedly emphasized in terms of its relevance and importance to this nation and the American people.

Article III, Section 2, is the fundamental key for congressional efforts to restrain federal judges who distort rather than enforce the Constitution.

Consider the very clear intent of our Founding Fathers when they drafted and approved Article III, Section 2: “...the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.”

I have emphasized the last twelve words of the provision because it is fashionable in some political circles today to pretend that Congress is somehow engaging in “court-stripping” if and when Congress proposes to exercise its very clear authority and duty conferred by this provision of the Constitution.