By H. Harrison Coleman IV
Over the last few months, I have been on a reading spree, and most of the books I’ve been reading have focused on politics. From the manifestos of prominent politicians to scholarly analyses of our political climate, books dealing with politics have become my bread and butter. So I was intrigued to hear that there was a book out there dealing with hypothetical amendments to the Constitution: A More Perfect Constitution. Even more intriguing, it was written by a scholar I very much admire, Professor Larry J. Sabato.
Sabato is a professor of Politics at the University of Virginia and is the founder of the Center For Politics—a nonpartisan organization dedicated to increasing civic participation among all citizens. Additionally, Sabato is the creator of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a website that provides political commentary and tries to predict the outcomes of elections.
In his book, Sabato shares a fascinating and optimistic view of the Constitution and discusses its shortfalls. He provides 23 potential amendments to the Constitution, from lengthening the presidential term to six years (and adjusting the terms of Congress to match) and adjusting the Electoral College to become more representative, and he makes the case for amendments that go beyond government.
A More Perfect Constitution was written in 2007, so I’m afraid I got to it a little late (although I was four years old at the time, so I believe I can be forgiven for missing it). The book shows its age in some areas and remains timeless in others. For instance, one of the proposed amendments was to expand the Supreme Court to a permanent number of twelve justices—a proposal that, after the outcry and push to expand the Court that came after the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett in late 2020, would be nigh-undoable today.
Sabato was also keen enough to include an amendment to limit campaign finance contributions from private donors and to begin the path towards publicly-funded elections. This, of course, is a great idea, but this was written before the disastrous and anti-democratic Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court case that was decided in 2010 and allowed corporations and private interests to donate as much as they want to political campaigns under the guise of “free speech.” If this book were written today, I have no doubt that Sabato would have dedicated more time and discussion to the matter of reforming public campaign finance.
On other matters, however, the book has aged like the finest of wines. In the first section of the book, dealing with the reformation of Congress, Sabato proposed the possibility of members of the House of Representatives designating a successor from their home districts in the case that they are killed or incapacitated in large-scale, tragic events. In the book, Sabato used 9/11 as an example of this and how Flight 93 was thought to be headed for the Capitol building to kill members of Congress.
I read this as the nation was pondering the aftermath of the January 6th Capitol insurrection—when armed members of the far-right stormed the Capitol during the confirmation of the Electoral College votes, and that part of the book seemed especially poignant. Thankfully, our elected leaders escaped January 6th and September 11th unscathed—but we have had to deal with the possibility of a large portion of our government being killed. This has been a possibility we have had to face twice in less than twenty years. Sabato’s idea of allowing all members of the House to choose a successor to take their place until the next election is a great one and one we must consider.
Additionally, Sabato suggested that the House of Representatives should be expanded to about 1,000 total members. This idea is one I’m familiar with and one that I advocate for heavily. A More Perfect Constitution, in 2007, recognized what all of us should—the House must be better in its representation, and that begins with enlarging it drastically.
In this book, Sabato makes the case for a variety of new and radical amendments. He does this as you’d expect an expert professor of politics to do: very well. Before I read this book, I was quite lukewarm on the prospect of a Balanced Budget Amendment, and I was actively against the idea of the United States instituting mandatory civil service. But after reading Sabato’s arguments for each, I have developed both a respect and new outlook on both of these ideas. That's just how good this book was.
Before I read this book, I wrote an article for The Iris about why I believed that the Constitution was outdated and was doomed to weigh the United States down with its inelasticity and stagnation. I still stand by this particular article; I don’t regret what I’ve written. But if I were to re-write that one, if I were to revisit it, I would probably be more optimistic, and that’s a direct result of this book. All throughout A More Perfect Constitution, Sabato’s optimism and genuine belief that the United States actually does have that capacity to become something better than it currently is shines through every page. Reading this book was a pleasure, and I cannot recommend it enough.