Honorable Mention: Marielle Rousseau
Mater Christi School, Burlington, VT

Marielle Rousseau

Vermont has the shortest and least amended state constitution in the country. In part this is because of an elaborate amending process set out in Section 72 of Chapter II of the Constitution. Should the Vermont Constitution be amended to create a simpler and quicker process for amending the constitution? Why or why not?

The Vermont Constitution: Amend or Not?
By Marielle Rousseau

Vermont’s Constitution is among the shortest and least amended one in the United States. This is because Vermont has a very complex amending process that can take years to pursue. In light of this, many Vermonters have been wondering if we should change our amendment process so that it is easier to amend our Constitution. To decide this, we must look back on how this intricate process was created.

Vermont first created its Constitution on July 8, 1777. This early Constitution brought into being new ideals of government. The Constitution spoke of the basic laws of the state. However, many people were wondering who should have the authority to amend the Constitution. People also wondered how the Constitution should be amended.

Many states had almost or completely unalterable constitutions at the time. In 1777 Vermont adopted the Council of Censors system. The Council of Censors was a group of men who, every 7 years, would consider possible amendments. Possible amendments would then go before a constitutional convention for ratification. In 1786, Vermont became the first state to amend its constitution through a constitutionally described process.

This process was to be used for 92 years. In 1870 the Vermont Constitution was amended to allow a general assembly to propose new amendments every ten years. This was called the ten-year time lock. After various attempts to shorten the ten-year time lock, it wasn’t until May of 1974 that the process was shortened from ten years to four.

The current amending process can be found in Chapter 2, Section 72 of the Vermont Constitution. Every 4 years the Senate will listen to proposals of amendments. Before the proposal can be sent to the House of Representatives, it must be approved by at least two-thirds of the Senate. At the House a majority vote is required before it can pass. The public then votes on proposals that are successful with this ordeal. The proposal must again receive majority votes from the House of Representatives and the Senate. Finally it is put before the voters again for ratification.

This process can take a very long time. A proposed amendment can take many years to be ratified. Because of this, many Vermonters have been wondering if we should change our amendment process so that it doesn’t take as much time. For example, what if we need to amend something in a hurry? We wouldn’t be able to. On the other hand, this system has always worked well in the past. I believe that the amendment process should not be shortened and made easier.

The fact that the amendment process is so long makes us really consider if the amendment in question is a good idea or not. If one is not completely sure of a possible amendment, it is unlikely one would want to put in all the time and effort required. Also, with this amendment system, everyone has a say. The only flaw in our current system is the amount of time it takes. If we were ever in an emergency situation that required a quick change in the Constitution, we would be unable to make the change. However, I believe that this reason is overshadowed by the opposing ideas. The current amendment system is perfect the way it is and we would be wrong to change it.

Vermont’s Constitution has been in place for 227 years and it has never served us wrong in this period of the time. It’s complicated process benefits us, as we can see from the fact that the Constitution has rarely needed amending, and if we were to change this process, we would no doubt be harming our law making process.