Though the framers of the United States Constitution were remarkable people, they were not clairvoyant.

They did show foresight approaching genius, however, in drafting Article V, the paragraph that creates a mechanism for the people to add or subtract from the supreme law of their land.

The Constitution has been amended 27 times since Sept. 17, 1789, starting with the First Amendment, which prohibits government interference with five essential freedoms – religion, speech, press, peaceful assembly and petition for redress of grievances.

Amendments guarantee our right to a trial by jury (Fifth) and protect us from illegal searches (Fourth). Without amendments, the Constitution would not have outlawed slavery (13th), established citizenship as a birthright (14th) or extended the right to vote to all men regardless of race (15th), to women (19th) and to everyone at the age of 18 (26th).

The 12th Amendment gave us our presidential election system when the version laid out in the Constitution, which made the election’s loser vice president, proved to be unworkable.

When people talk about their “constitutional rights,” they are almost always referring to something that came in through the amendment process.

As we celebrate the 232nd birthday of the Constitution on Sept. 17, Constitution Day, we have to acknowledge that we’ve lost our ability to use one of the Constitution’s most important tools – the ability to amend it. With one insignificant exception, there hasn’t been a constitutional amendment for 50 years, the longest such period since 1789.

The founders of our republic knew enough to know that they didn’t know everything that was going to happen.

They were active in politics before the birth of political parties. They confronted economic issues before modern corporations existed. Their understanding of the environmental protection was formed before the Industrial Revolution.

They did their job by writing Article V, but we have not done our part in keeping the Constitution up to date.

The greatest threat to our health and well-being comes from pollution-caused climate change, but we have no constitutional right to clean air or a stable climate.

Corporate polluters have a constitutional right to free speech in the form of nearly unlimited political spending, but ordinary citizens have no right to keep their voices from being drowned out.

As more of our lives move online, our electronic data and metadata don’t have the same privacy protections as our constitutionally protected papers and effects.

Did we perfect our Constitution in 1971 when the voting age was lowered to 18? Or did we lose our ability to work together for the common good?

If so, we have to find a way to get it back. The Constitution was not a finished product in 1789. It was a framework designed to grow with us.

If we can’t keep it up to date, we will not be able to govern ourselves in the face of new and dangerous challenges. And if we cannot amend the Constitution, we are not keeping faith with the ideals on which this country was founded.


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