Political Science Students Revisit the Drafting of the U.S. Constitution

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

The United States Constitution was drafted in 1787 when the young country was much smaller and both politics and technology were very different. While the Constitution and its Amendments have withstood the test of time, one Benedictine College professor wondered what it would be like to draft a constitution using the realities of today. Political Science Professor John F. Settich, PhD, assigned his class in American Constitutional Development a hypothetical exercise to examine the existing Constitution and suggest changes as if they were writing it now. The group of 18 undergraduate students was divided into groups to focus on particular Articles. 

“These students have made a serious contribution to constructive discussions in the public arena,” said Settich. “They are, I suggest, serious influencers and I hope their efforts reach an attentive audience.”

Their draft introduces many innovations, including a proposal to allow Congress to override Supreme Court decisions and another that the U.S. Senate membership be apportioned to each state according to its percentage of the total population. Another allows for a state to secede from the Union as a sort of safety valve. However, the students made that process intentionally difficult.

“Some groups contributed strikingly original ideas,” Settich said. “For example, the Article VI team of Margaret Hart and Jeffrey Schremmer rightly identified a need to address the structural relationships between the central government and America’s often overlooked distant territories and possessions. That was a very good catch. The framers did not anticipate an American empire.”

The project compares the existing “Framers’ Constitution” with their own work and includes essays of rationale for their decisions, along with dissenting opinions. 

For instance, the group working on Article III, the Judicial Branch, spent a great deal of time discussing the Supreme Court and how it should relate to the law and Congress. Seniors Kyle Smart and Randall Terry II wrote the conclusions of Group III, with Charles Springer authoring a dissenting view. In their majority opinion, Smart and Terry wrote that they felt the Supreme Court has too much power concentrated in too few people who are not publicly elected and there should be an additional check in place, which was a 2/3 majority overrule in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

“Though the Supreme Court has made many good rulings,” wrote Smart and Terry. “The court system has to be subordinate to something. In the UK, the courts are beneath the law and have very little power to overturn them. Though we have decided against this, Group III does not want the opposite either, where you have a court that cannot be checked in any way.”

In his dissenting view, Springer wrote, “A powerful Supreme Court is necessary to confront a united legislature or executive from enacting their will upon the populace in defiance of the Constitution.”

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is honored to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. Benedictine College has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.