Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Q Day 2: Major Change Coming?

Ron E. asks:
What do you think the prospects are for major changes to our Constitutional system? For instance term limits for (Supreme Court) judges, abolition of the electoral college, an Amendment to overturn Citizens United and allow campaign finance legislation, the ERA, etc.? You don't have to comment on each of these individual items, but I'm interested in if you think there is any possibility of changes at least as radical as these taking place anytime soon.
Thanks to partisan polarization, it's very, very difficult to see any changes by Constitutional amendment happening any time soon. Probably the least unlikely would be the electoral's vaguely possible for me to imagine circumstances in which the status quo becomes so overwhelmingly unpopular that switching to a plurality vote becomes viable, with perhaps the state-by-state folks succeeding enough that it puts pressure on Congress to act. But I'd put that one at below 10% chance over 20 years.

However, that doesn't mean big change couldn't happen. Many of the big changes have happened without Constitutional amendment: the McGovern-Fraser reform of the presidential nomination system after 1968 (and subsequent institutionalization in the 1980s); the reform of the House of Representatives from 1958-1975, changing it from a decentralized committee-run chamber into a much more centralized party-run body; the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The obvious big one on the horizon is the Senate, which is well into a cycle of change (towards obstruction) that appears highly unstable.

What else? I think it depends on the future of the GOP, which I have no prediction for at all. Suppose the GOP continues more or less as it is, or even gets more dysfunctional; it's easy to imagine it winning big in some election cycle and implementing major changes to the system of some kind. On the other hand, it's possible to imagine a GOP that reforms itself and marginalizes the crazies; that opens up a whole different set of potential coalitions.

Do major demographic changes count? It's possible to see big changes happening on immigration, I suppose, and that could changes lots of things.

Not sure what else in the short or medium term horizon.


  1. Good post, thanks. Here's another possibility if the Republicans remain intransigent: something like what just happened to California Republicans happens to Republicans nationally (over time).

    In California, Democrats now have super-majorities in both houses of the legislature, control the governor's office, won passage of major tax increases (weighted heavily toward the wealthy), and are on the verge of returning the Golden State to budget surpluses for the first time in years.

    That's not likely to happen any time soon nationally (especially supermajorities in the Senate, for example), but it definitely seems possible that, after the 2020 census and redistricting, Republicans could find themselves in a fairly deep political hole.

  2. I wonder if the GOP goes through with its plans to allocate electoral votes proportionally in some Democratic states whether the electoral college could be repealed in time for 2016 or if it would be necessary to go through a horrific debacle with proportional allocation in that election before there would be enough momentum for repeal.

    1. A national Republican Party that encourages state electoral office holders to create a persistent Republican partisan advantage in the electoral college by selectively diluting the influence of Democratic-leaning states would not be a national Republican Party that would allow a constitutional amendment or a national popular vote compact that would immediately eliminate the electoral college and undo all their work right before the election they are trying to steal. Remember, national popular vote requires Democratic elected officials to hold both houses of legislature and the governorship of states totaling at least 270 electoral votes, and that is nowhere close to the case at the moment and will almost definitely still not be the case in 2015.

  3. Long term, the problems that I see with gerry-mandering are two-fold. First, if your base is dwindling, eventually you will lose to demographics. Second, if you are only interested in your base's issues, and those issues are very different from everyone else's, you will start to sound like you are from another planet. I'd argue that these effects reinforce each other.

    As to whether the Republicans will go through with their plans to dilute Democratic strength in the Midwest, the answer is that they probably will in at least one state. What effect it will have is unclear.

  4. Maybe ending lifetime tenure for Supreme Court justices could get bipartisan support, since both parties can be big losers if the dice fall the wrong way. Rick Perry proposed it, and I know a lot of Democrats would go for it.

  5. Maybe ending lifetime tenure for Supreme Court justices could get bipartisan support, since both parties can be big losers if the dice fall the wrong way. Rick Perry proposed it, and I know a lot of Democrats would go for it.


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