Isn't it about time to review our Constitution?

Published October 11, 2018

By Joe Mavretic

by Joe Mavretic, former House Speaker and NC SPIN panelist, October 10, 2018.

The founding fathers envisioned two kinds of constitutions. The one for our Republic was a broad umbrella for a universal (national) social contract. The other kind, state constitutions, were to be reflective of the conditions and desires of each of the several states-but not contrary to the constitution of our Republic. 

Article X of the Original Amendments (The Bill of Rights) underscores the intent for unique state constitutions. Among the original thirteen states  there were significant differences in resources, climate, geology and inhabitants. Massachusetts was settled by Puritans, while Georgia was initially colonized by debtors. Issues regarding suffrage, slavery and the political roles of property and gender were left to future generations. Today, the demographic differences between California and Montana could hardly be more stark. Rhode Island and Utah could be on different continents. Fargo, North Dakota and Brownsville, Texas are on about the same meridian but their climates could be on different planets. We should not only expect the constitutions of the several states to reflect their values and priorities, but we should applaud their differences. A homogeneous America was never intended.

John L. Sanders wrote a historical perspective of our North Carolina constitutions, along with some of the amendments, that is germane to our current petty peevishness. I have borrowed liberally from John.

First a note about "Generations." In the past ten years, there has been a change in the calculation of generations. What used to be reckoned as a generation of 20 to 25 years is now considered to be about 30 to 33 years. I chose to use 33 years as a generation and to assume three generations in a century.

North Carolina has had only three constitutions (1776/1868/1971) in two hundred and forty two years (242), or, 92 years between the first two, 103 years between the last two, and 47 years under the current one. So, a question is, "Does each generation of North Carolinians have an opportunity to review, and comment upon, the state constitution under which they are governed?"
Since 1868, there have been four generations that have had but a single opportunity to review their constitution. Isn’t it about time to include mandatory constitutional review for each generation? Perhaps we should have a constitutional commission that reviews our constitution three times a century (in the decades that begin with "0", "4" and "7"), proposes amendments that are then debated/endorsed/opposed by our General Assembly and then ratified or rejected by the people. 

It is instructive to recall that from 1868 through 2017, there have been one hundred forty (140) proposed amendments to our state’s last two constitutions, with one hundred four (104) ratified and thirty six (36) rejected. In 1873, eight amendments were proposed and all were ratified. In 1914, ten amendments were proposed and all ten were rejected. In 1936, 1944, 1950, 1972 and 1977 five amendments were proposed and all were ratified. In 1982, seven amendments were proposed with three ratified and four rejected. Overall, for the past one hundred fifty years, North Carolinians have ratified about seventy five percent (75%) of amendments proposed by their General Assembly.
After a year of court cases at every appellate level, our voters have an opportunity to consider six constitutional propositions (proposed amendments) on their November ballot. 

The statistics seem to indicate that the "Average North Carolina Voters" can understand what is proposed in these amendments and can make an informed personal choice about how they choose to be governed. Television and newspaper ads, and yard signs, that encourage voters to either "Vote Yes" or "Vote No" on ALL proposed amendments suggest that thoughtful consideration is a waste of time. Shame on both sides for their divisive and dismissive positions.

Seems to me that having six proposed amendments also underscores the need for periodic review of the social contract under which two generations of North Carolinians have lived. 

Isn’t it about time to require constitutional review?