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The Ossified Nature Of Our Constitutional System

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by David A. BellInteresting post by Sanford Levinson. I do wonder, though, about the danger of votes of no confidence in a system of divided powers, as opposed to Britain's parliamentary system. Imagine what might happen if, for instance, Tom Delay-style Republicans ever achieved a two-thirds majority in Congress. I doubt very much they would wait for a major scandal before voting no confidence in a Democratic--sorry, "Democrat"--president (see Rick Hertzberg on this annoying terminology). True, under Levinson's proposal, the defeated president could win reelection, but a no-confidence vote could still effectively paralyze the presidency for a long time, especially if more than one such vote took place. This would flout both the popular will, and the spirit of constitutional checks and balances.

I do share, though, Levinson's frustration at the incredibly ossified nature of our constitutional system, supported by mindless reverence for founding fathers who understood their imperfections far better than we do, and who mostly never imagined the system they designed lasting for so long without major changes. Trying to explain certain aspects of it--the Electoral College, or North Dakota and California both having two senators, for instance--to foreign friends usually produces looks of stupefaction. But if the 2000 election failed to produce even the beginning of a serious move towards constitutional reform, it's hard to see what will.

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