The most serious question for a democracy is:
how will the people require their government officers to address questions they’d rather not address?
Constitutional sections discussed in Section 5:
Article I, sections: 2, 3, 5, 6, 8 (Necessary and Proper clause), 9 (Statements and Accounts clause)
Article II, sections: 1, 2, 3, 4
Article III, sections: 1, 2
Article IV, sections: 2, 4
Amendment XIV, sections: 1, 2, 3
Section 5 does not amend any text.
The most serious question in a democracy is: how do people require the government to address a question at all if it doesn’t want to?
This amendment answers the largest part of it, the part that requires amending the Constitution. But other parts require statutes or rules, or court cases. Reforming primaries will probably take a court case as well as state and federal laws.
Fulfilling Amendment I's Grievance clause requires automatic procedures to petition each branch of government for redress of grievances. Today, only the judicial branch has the process called for. Filing a petition (a lawsuit that describes a situation you think violates a law, lists the relevant laws, and requests a specific remedy within the court's power) sets it in motion. Any dismissal of a petition must be justified in writing, and an appeal process exists. There's no reason why Congress can't have the same process for requesting or challenging laws. This desperately-needed reform can be done by statute, without amending the Constitution.
Congress must require its members to introduce all issues, or specific measures to resolve them, brought to them by their constituents (see Tomorrow's Issues in Political Process). The Constitution doesn’t allow them to refuse. Nowhere does it place the people’s right to representative government at the government’s discretion.
“Congress shall make no law […] abridging […]
the right of the people […] to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
This means we shouldn’t have to rely on the electoral process to address grievances. Using the electoral process is too broad when a specific grievance is of interest.
And we state in Article I, Section 2 and elsewhere that our government consists of the public’s representatives, not our leaders and cetainly not our guardians. Amendments IX and X forbid government encroachment on our rights and powers, and of course in the Preamble the people ordain and establish the Constitution.
We definitely shouldn’t have to rely on lawsuits when the courts aren’t the appropriate venue (see Judiciary in Conflict). The judiciary isn't the only branch of United States government, and Amendment I doesn’t say “the judiciary,” it says “the Government,” which includes the states, Congress and the Executive branch. Each branch has its restrictions and appropriate matters, and each should be accessible by an automatic process.
Officers’ desire for the power of discretion is understandable in a country this large. Without adding direct democracy at the federal level (see Ballot Initiatives) it’s difficult to distinguish fads or exploitation by marketing from an informed interest. And the sheer volume of bill requests is a problem.
Congress has addressed this in two invalid ways: by narrowing access to itself to those people, companies or organizations who can afford lobbying power, and by restricting access to individual members' own constituents even though this can prevent directly addressing the committee or subcommittee involved (see Balancing Access Inside Congress). But we didn’t delegate the power of discretion regarding access to government to Congress. It violates Amendment I (see Congressional Rules and the Courts).
Reducing the ratio of Representatives to constituents (see Frozen Apportionment) will definitely help. But winnowing measures requires an automatic procedure, since Congress has no right to refuse to address any grievance without one. Amendment I requires that they justify refusals in writing, with an appeal procedure.
The WeThePeople petition website is a procedure for bringing grievances to the Executive branch. It’s also an indirect method for bringing grievances to Congress through the President. Because it’s discretionary (the President can only recommend, not introduce, measures, and it's up to the President whether to recommend a petition) and indirect it’s really a start at bringing the problem into the public debate, not a solution. The public must be able to introduce measures into Congress. What is public debate without the public?
There are other options. If all else failed, we could even resort to another amendment to detail national ballot initiatives. But ballot initiatives for 316 million people would be a serious thing to consider in itself. We shouldn’t have to go that far. A procedure similar to the one already in place in the judicial branch would work without changing our form of government.
The need to repair, restore and safeguard the public's Constitutional powers is a serious and immediate problem. This amendment is a vital part of the solution, but it can’t address the public grievance question by itself. It has the first steps that have to be taken so the public can use the political process effectively to resolve it.
We will also have to address the public grievance question with statutes and rules
to assure our rights and our childrens'.