There have been several discussions lately, about the perceived need to call for a Constitutional Convention to amend the U.S. Constitution. Many have focused on the never-used method of amendment of having two-thirds of the states call a convention for proposing amendments, amendments that would go into effect when ratified by the three-fourths of the states. The idea is that the Constitution may be amended despite Congressional inaction, if enough states want to initiate action.
All of us who have taken courses in Social Studies, Civics, or Government in our South Carolina public schools know quite a bit about the U.S. Constitution: its stirring preamble that lists the founding purposes of our nation; its initially counting our non-white population per capita as only “three-fifths” of a white person; of the Bill of Rights; and of the Reconstruction Amendments that finally cancelled the “three-fifths” provisions, abolished slavery, and (thanks to federal court interpretations) guaranteed basic freedoms and voting rights to all.
But how many of us know, or have even read, our South Carolina Constitution?
Compared with the U.S. Constitution, it’s relatively easy to amend; it only takes action on the part of South Carolinians, rather than on the part of all (or at least three-fourths) of our nation. But does the South Carolina Constitution need amendment? Yes, it does; at least in those parts that federal courts have found to be in conflict with the U.S. Constitution, especially with the Bill of Rights and the Reconstruction Amendments. Here are three such areas:
- Article II Section 6 empowers our General Assembly to deny the right to vote, to anybody deemed as illiterate in the English language. Several court cases have invalidated this provision, both because “illiterate” citizens are often so designated only because of their race or their politics, and because many of our newest citizens are absolutely literate in their native tongue but (unlike their citizen children) only marginally literate in English.
- Article IV Section 2 states that “no person shall be eligible to the office of Governor” who does not “believe in in the existence of a Supreme Being”; article XVII Section 4 extends this requirement to anyone who “shall hold any office under this Constitution.” Many “free thinkers” throughout our history, including many famous American scientists and philosophers, would not be eligible even to be a Notary Public in South Carolina, but for the fact that federal courts have already ruled these sections to be contrary to the U.S. Constitution.
- Article XVII Section 15 prohibits South Carolina from recognizing, much less performing, same gender marriages; our federal court system has just struck down this provision, last month.
It is nonsensical to say that the U.S. Constitution is the “supreme Law of the Land” and yet to have provisions in our own South Carolina Constitution that have been adjudged to conflict with that law. We probably ought to wait until the final Supreme Court decision on that third bullet, but for the first two … let’s fix them. Before we get too involved in trying to set up a new Constitutional Convention to amend the U.S. Constitution, let us first resolve, in 2015, to get our own house in order and fix our South Carolina Constitution.