full transcript

From the Ted Talk by Peter Paccone: Why is the US Constitution so hard to amend?

Unscramble the Blue Letters

When it was ratified in 1789, the U.S. Constitution didn't just institute a government by the people. It provided a way for the people to alter the constitution itself. And yet, of the nearly 11,000 amendments proposed in the ciuterens since, only 27 have succeeded as of 2016. So what is it that makes the Constitution so hard to change? In short, its creators. The founders of the unietd States were trying to create a unified country from thirteen different colonies, which needed assurance that their agreements couldn't be easily undone. So here's what they decided. For an amendment to even be proposed, it must receive a two-thirds vote of arpaovpl in both houses of Congress, or a request from two-thirds of state legislatures to call a national cotnenvion, and that's just the first step. To actually change the Constitution, the amendment must be ratified by three-quarters of all states. To do this, each state can either have its legislature vote on the amendment, or it can hold a separate ratification convention with detgeales elected by voters. The result of such high thresholds is that, today, the American Constitution is quite static. Most other democracies pass amendments every couple of years. The U.S., on the other hand, hasn't pseasd one since 1992. At this point, you may wonder how any amendments managed to pass at all. The first ten, known as the Bill of Rights, includes some of America's most well-known freedoms, such as the freedom of speech, and the right to a fair trial. These were passed all at once to rseovle some conflicts from the ogirnail Constitutional Convention. Years later, the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, as well as the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, only passed after a booldy civil war. Ratifying ameedntnms has also become harder as the country has grown larger and more dresvie. The first ever proposed amendment, a formula to assign congressional raetevnrstieeps, was on the verge of ratification in the 1790s. However, as more and more states joined the union, the number needed to reach the three-quarter mark increased as well, leaving it unratified to this day. Today, there are many suggested amendments, including outlawing the burning of the flag, limiting congressional terms, or even repealing the Second Amendment. While many enjoy strong support, their likelihood of passing is slim. Americans taody are the most politically polarized since the Civil War, making it nearly impossible to reach a board consensus. In fact, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia once calculated that due to America's representative sseytm of gonneemrvt, it could take as little as 2% of the total ppotuoailn to block an ademnnmet. Of course, the simplest solution would be to make the coisotutnitn easier to amend by lrioweng the thresholds required for proposal and ratification. That, however, would rqeuire its own amendment. Instead, historical progress has mainly come from the U.S. Supreme Court, which has expanded its irittteropanen of existing constitutional laws to keep up with the times. Considering that Supreme curot jsuietcs are unelected and serve for life once appointed, this is far from the most democratic option. Interestingly, the founders themselves may have freeseon this problem early on. In a letter to James mdiaosn, thmaos Jefferson wrote that laws should expire every 19 years rather than having to be cghnead or repealed since every political process is full of otacelbss that distort the will of the people. Although he bveelied that the biasc principles of the Constitution would endure, he stressed that the Earth belogns to the living, and not to the dead.

Open Cloze

When it was ratified in 1789, the U.S. Constitution didn't just institute a government by the people. It provided a way for the people to alter the constitution itself. And yet, of the nearly 11,000 amendments proposed in the _________ since, only 27 have succeeded as of 2016. So what is it that makes the Constitution so hard to change? In short, its creators. The founders of the ______ States were trying to create a unified country from thirteen different colonies, which needed assurance that their agreements couldn't be easily undone. So here's what they decided. For an amendment to even be proposed, it must receive a two-thirds vote of ________ in both houses of Congress, or a request from two-thirds of state legislatures to call a national __________, and that's just the first step. To actually change the Constitution, the amendment must be ratified by three-quarters of all states. To do this, each state can either have its legislature vote on the amendment, or it can hold a separate ratification convention with _________ elected by voters. The result of such high thresholds is that, today, the American Constitution is quite static. Most other democracies pass amendments every couple of years. The U.S., on the other hand, hasn't ______ one since 1992. At this point, you may wonder how any amendments managed to pass at all. The first ten, known as the Bill of Rights, includes some of America's most well-known freedoms, such as the freedom of speech, and the right to a fair trial. These were passed all at once to _______ some conflicts from the ________ Constitutional Convention. Years later, the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, as well as the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, only passed after a ______ civil war. Ratifying __________ has also become harder as the country has grown larger and more _______. The first ever proposed amendment, a formula to assign congressional _______________, was on the verge of ratification in the 1790s. However, as more and more states joined the union, the number needed to reach the three-quarter mark increased as well, leaving it unratified to this day. Today, there are many suggested amendments, including outlawing the burning of the flag, limiting congressional terms, or even repealing the Second Amendment. While many enjoy strong support, their likelihood of passing is slim. Americans _____ are the most politically polarized since the Civil War, making it nearly impossible to reach a _____ consensus. In fact, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia once calculated that due to America's representative ______ of __________, it could take as little as 2% of the total __________ to block an _________. Of course, the simplest solution would be to make the ____________ easier to amend by ________ the thresholds required for proposal and ratification. That, however, would _______ its own amendment. Instead, historical progress has mainly come from the U.S. Supreme Court, which has expanded its ______________ of existing constitutional laws to keep up with the times. Considering that Supreme _____ ________ are unelected and serve for life once appointed, this is far from the most democratic option. Interestingly, the founders themselves may have ________ this problem early on. In a letter to James _______, ______ Jefferson wrote that laws should expire every 19 years rather than having to be _______ or repealed since every political process is full of _________ that distort the will of the people. Although he ________ that the _____ principles of the Constitution would endure, he stressed that the Earth _______ to the living, and not to the dead.

Solution

  1. lowering
  2. court
  3. basic
  4. constitution
  5. changed
  6. obstacles
  7. amendment
  8. thomas
  9. government
  10. diverse
  11. belongs
  12. convention
  13. representatives
  14. passed
  15. today
  16. approval
  17. interpretation
  18. justices
  19. broad
  20. madison
  21. centuries
  22. require
  23. amendments
  24. population
  25. system
  26. bloody
  27. delegates
  28. believed
  29. foreseen
  30. original
  31. united
  32. resolve

Original Text

When it was ratified in 1789, the U.S. Constitution didn't just institute a government by the people. It provided a way for the people to alter the constitution itself. And yet, of the nearly 11,000 amendments proposed in the centuries since, only 27 have succeeded as of 2016. So what is it that makes the Constitution so hard to change? In short, its creators. The founders of the United States were trying to create a unified country from thirteen different colonies, which needed assurance that their agreements couldn't be easily undone. So here's what they decided. For an amendment to even be proposed, it must receive a two-thirds vote of approval in both houses of Congress, or a request from two-thirds of state legislatures to call a national convention, and that's just the first step. To actually change the Constitution, the amendment must be ratified by three-quarters of all states. To do this, each state can either have its legislature vote on the amendment, or it can hold a separate ratification convention with delegates elected by voters. The result of such high thresholds is that, today, the American Constitution is quite static. Most other democracies pass amendments every couple of years. The U.S., on the other hand, hasn't passed one since 1992. At this point, you may wonder how any amendments managed to pass at all. The first ten, known as the Bill of Rights, includes some of America's most well-known freedoms, such as the freedom of speech, and the right to a fair trial. These were passed all at once to resolve some conflicts from the original Constitutional Convention. Years later, the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, as well as the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, only passed after a bloody civil war. Ratifying amendments has also become harder as the country has grown larger and more diverse. The first ever proposed amendment, a formula to assign congressional representatives, was on the verge of ratification in the 1790s. However, as more and more states joined the union, the number needed to reach the three-quarter mark increased as well, leaving it unratified to this day. Today, there are many suggested amendments, including outlawing the burning of the flag, limiting congressional terms, or even repealing the Second Amendment. While many enjoy strong support, their likelihood of passing is slim. Americans today are the most politically polarized since the Civil War, making it nearly impossible to reach a broad consensus. In fact, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia once calculated that due to America's representative system of government, it could take as little as 2% of the total population to block an amendment. Of course, the simplest solution would be to make the Constitution easier to amend by lowering the thresholds required for proposal and ratification. That, however, would require its own amendment. Instead, historical progress has mainly come from the U.S. Supreme Court, which has expanded its interpretation of existing constitutional laws to keep up with the times. Considering that Supreme Court justices are unelected and serve for life once appointed, this is far from the most democratic option. Interestingly, the founders themselves may have foreseen this problem early on. In a letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson wrote that laws should expire every 19 years rather than having to be changed or repealed since every political process is full of obstacles that distort the will of the people. Although he believed that the basic principles of the Constitution would endure, he stressed that the Earth belongs to the living, and not to the dead.

Frequently Occurring Word Combinations

ngrams of length 2

collocation frequency
supreme court 2

Important Words

  1. abolished
  2. agreements
  3. alter
  4. amend
  5. amendment
  6. amendments
  7. american
  8. americans
  9. antonin
  10. appointed
  11. approval
  12. assign
  13. assurance
  14. basic
  15. believed
  16. belongs
  17. bill
  18. block
  19. bloody
  20. broad
  21. burning
  22. calculated
  23. call
  24. centuries
  25. change
  26. changed
  27. civil
  28. colonies
  29. conflicts
  30. congress
  31. congressional
  32. consensus
  33. constitution
  34. constitutional
  35. convention
  36. country
  37. couple
  38. court
  39. create
  40. creators
  41. day
  42. dead
  43. decided
  44. delegates
  45. democracies
  46. democratic
  47. distort
  48. diverse
  49. due
  50. early
  51. earth
  52. easier
  53. easily
  54. elected
  55. endure
  56. enjoy
  57. existing
  58. expanded
  59. expire
  60. fact
  61. fair
  62. fifteenth
  63. flag
  64. foreseen
  65. formula
  66. founders
  67. fourteenth
  68. freedom
  69. freedoms
  70. full
  71. government
  72. grown
  73. hand
  74. hard
  75. harder
  76. high
  77. historical
  78. hold
  79. houses
  80. impossible
  81. includes
  82. including
  83. increased
  84. institute
  85. interestingly
  86. interpretation
  87. james
  88. jefferson
  89. joined
  90. justice
  91. justices
  92. larger
  93. late
  94. laws
  95. leaving
  96. legislature
  97. legislatures
  98. letter
  99. life
  100. likelihood
  101. limiting
  102. living
  103. lowering
  104. madison
  105. making
  106. managed
  107. mark
  108. national
  109. needed
  110. number
  111. obstacles
  112. option
  113. original
  114. outlawing
  115. pass
  116. passed
  117. passing
  118. people
  119. point
  120. polarized
  121. political
  122. politically
  123. population
  124. principles
  125. problem
  126. process
  127. progress
  128. proposal
  129. proposed
  130. ratification
  131. ratified
  132. ratifying
  133. reach
  134. receive
  135. repealed
  136. repealing
  137. representative
  138. representatives
  139. request
  140. require
  141. required
  142. resolve
  143. result
  144. rights
  145. scalia
  146. separate
  147. serve
  148. short
  149. simplest
  150. slavery
  151. slim
  152. solution
  153. speech
  154. state
  155. states
  156. static
  157. step
  158. stressed
  159. strong
  160. succeeded
  161. suggested
  162. support
  163. supreme
  164. system
  165. ten
  166. terms
  167. thirteen
  168. thirteenth
  169. thomas
  170. thresholds
  171. times
  172. today
  173. total
  174. trial
  175. undone
  176. unelected
  177. unified
  178. union
  179. united
  180. unratified
  181. verge
  182. vote
  183. voters
  184. war
  185. wrote
  186. years