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Want Better Elections or Better Election Case Law? Amend the Constitution, Law Profs Say

Posted Jun 18, 2012 5:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Updated: If America wants to do something about elections, the nation should pass a constitutional amendment allowing limits on political contributions. Or it should pass an amendment establishing a U.S. Elections Commission. Or it should pass an amendment guaranteeing a right to vote.

Those are the suggestions of three law professors writing about elections for Slate, which is examining the topic “How can we fix the Constitution?”

Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe proposes the contributions amendment, which reads in part, “Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to forbid Congress or the states from imposing content-neutral limitations on private campaign contributions or independent political campaign expenditures.”

University of California at Irvine law professor Richard Hasen has the idea of creating an independent agency with its own budget and powers to run congressional and presidential elections. “Think about it,” he writes. “We have people running our elections whose ultimate allegiance is not to the integrity of the vote count but to the Republican Party or the Democratic Party.” He suggests "an election czar or board nominated by the president and confirmed by a three-quarters vote of the U.S. Senate.”

Yale law professor Heather Gerken says court decisions about elections would improve if the Constitution included a right to vote. “What the Constitution contains is a series of ‘thou shalt nots,’ ” she writes. “Thou shalt not deny the right to vote on account of race or sex. Thou shalt not impose poll taxes. Thou shalt not prevent 18-year-olds from voting. It is difficult to develop a robust case law when you only know what you can’t do.”

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, announced on Monday that he has introduced Tribe’s suggested constitutional amendment. Schiff was one of Tribe’s research assistants while a law student in the mid-1980s, according to a press release.

Hat tip How Appealing.

Updated at 2 p.m. to include Shiff's introduction of Tribe's suggested amendment.

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