Winner: Addie Peterson
Williston Central School, Williston,VT

Addie Peterson

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?

Amending the Constitution
By Addie Peterson

            When the U.S. constitution was being written, it was Thomas Jefferson who originally thought it was a good idea to make a constitution that only lasted 19 to 20 years. He wanted the constitution to change with society. Madison on the other hand thought it best to keep one constitution, something basic that would last. He eventually won, and it was decided to have a strong constitutional structure with different amendments. It was also decided that it would be made so it was purposely difficult to make amendments.

            In Vermont, we have also gone with the idea that it should take a while to amend the state constitution. First, a proposal for an amendment can only be introduced to our state constitution every four years, starting from 1975. If the Senate proposes an amendment, it has to be approved by two-thirds of the Senate. Then, the House of Representatives must give a majority vote. After that, in the next biennium, it is put before the House and Senate where it has to get the majority. Following those votes, it will be voted on by the voters, where it also has to get a majority. Once all those steps are completed, it becomes part of the Constitution. 

            Keeping the constitution as is, people really appreciate what we have, and learn to interpret the constitution differently. An example is back in the 1700’s, when the U.S Constitution was being written, segregation was normal. In the 1900’s, people started to realize that segregation was wrong. In the Board vs. Brown case, two girls were saying it was unfair that they had to walk a few, dangerous miles along a railroad because they had to go to a black school. Judges in the courts realized that this was wrong because in the constitution it says “All men are created equal…” and this was not equality.

            In the Board vs. Brown example, the court interpreted the constitution differently. If they had to go through the whole process of making an amendment, it most likely would not have been passed because so many people were against desegregation. It also gave people time to think about this issue. Instead of deciding at the spur of the moment, people realized over time that the courts were right, that segregation was wrong.

            If Jefferson had won, or it was easier to make an amendment, people would get what they wanted more quickly. We would not have to rely on judges to make the decision; it would be up to what the people wanted. We would have more say in the issues too. The only problem with giving more power to the people is that the amendments might keep changing year after year. This could make our government change too much, which might make it eventually fall apart.

            I believe if our state constitution is amended so it is easier to amend the constitution, people would not appreciate the amendments. If it was easy to pass an amendment, people would not think twice about what they were trying to amend. How we have it set up now makes people think. They would not want to go through years of work to only have it voted down by the voters, so they would look at it from every angle to make sure it would be agreeable. If we have an easy way to amend the constitution, we would have so many amendments, understanding our laws would be confusing. We should keep it to a few, meaningful amendments, where everyone understands what each amendment stands for and how important it really is.