Is Amending Our Michigan Constitution Really a Good Idea?

Since achieving statehood in 1837, Michigan has adopted a total of four constitutions. Article 12 of the Constitution of 1963 (the version currently in effect) sets forth the detailed procedure by which amendments to the constitution are to be proposed, considered and adopted. Once a proposed amendment makes its way through a very detailed process and appears on the ballot, it must garner the affirmative vote of a majority of the electors voting on the question in order to become part of the Michigan Constitution.

When Michigan voters go to the polls this November 6, they will be asked to consider five proposed amendments to the Michigan Constitution (identified as proposals 12-2 through 12-6). While it is not the intention of this brief article to advocate for or against any of the proposed amendments, it would seem to make sense to consider as a general matter whether it is advisable to amend the Constitution in the first place.

A constitution is a document which sets forth the fundamental principles and precedents according to which a government will be organized, will govern and will exercise its powers. The rallying cry, “They can’t do that, it’s unconstitutional!” reflects the belief that our laws must be measured against a standard of what is, and what is not, acceptable. A constitution sets that standard.

By its very nature, then, a constitution is general. Specificity is achieved through the legislative process. Based upon the guiding principles recited in the constitution
and acting under the authority set forth within it, our duly elected representatives adopt laws to deal with specific issues and concerns. As cumbersome as the legislative process sometimes seems to be, it is much faster than amending the constitution. As a result, ever changing societal issues can be dealt with comparatively quickly, based upon the guiding principles contained in the constitution. And, if the law doesn’t work out, it can be amended or repealed altogether. By contrast, if a constitutional amendment doesn’t work out, it can only be fixed by another constitutional amendment.

Because changes to the constitution, are, in essence, changes to our guiding principles, they must be considered with all due caution. In reality, a principle that keeps changing is not much of a principle at all. Constitutional amendments should not be used to achieve purposes and goals that are best addressed by legislation.

The following link will take you to a complete copy of the Michigan Constitution; just scroll down the page and click.

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