The Bill of Mights: Jesse Jackson Jr. Introduces 9 Constitutional Amendments to Zero Fanfare

Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. of Illinois Congressional District 2If volume were an indicator of success, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (IL-2) would be a knockout. Jackson has introduced no fewer than nine amendments to the Constitution of the United States this year. Let’s take a peek at these, the Jackson Nine:


Jackson Amendment 1: H.J. Res. 28, providing a universal right to vote for citizens aged 18 or older which “shall not be denied or abridged.” Believe it or not, this right does not currently exist in the U.S.; the right to vote can be taken away by the government for a number of reasons including incarceration.


Jackson Amendment 2: H.J. Res. 29 would amend the Constitution with the following Article:

`Section 1. All persons shall enjoy the right to a public education of equal high quality.
`Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.’.

I’m not sure how the “right to a public education of equal high quality” would be enforced and implemented if interpreted literally. Being human, teachers are not equal in quality; would they be replaced by robot teachers? If not, would teachers be shuffled from school to school to ensure that equal numbers of rotten teachers would be present in each school, teaching each child to a similar extent? How about higher education? Would everyone have an equal right to attend state universities and colleges? What if they were not prepared? What if they could not read? How could I have the same right to attend medical school at a public university as someone who actually took organic chemistry?

I think I know what Rep. Jackson means by this amendment, but what I think he means by this amendment is not the same as what the amendment actually says.


Jackson Amendment 3: H.J. Res. 30 would amend the Constitution with the following Article:

`Section 1. All persons shall enjoy the right to health care of equal high quality.
`Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.’.

What Jackson’s amendment should guarantee is “public health care,” since rich individuals will always be able to obtain a premium in health care treatment, whether it is illegal or not, and I’m not sure that the Congress is prepared to make the hiring of a home health nurse a criminal offense. Is the goal of equal access to public health care within reach? Pieces of the system are in place: there’s Medicare for the elderly and everyone gets treated in emergency rooms, regardless of ability to pay. Does the Congress have the courage to expand zones of universal coverage?


Jackson Amendment 4: H.J. Res. 31 would amend the Constitution to declare that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex” and that “Reproductive rights for women under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State.” Exactly what “reproductive rights for women” entail isn’t clarified by the amendment. Does this mean that every woman gets infertility treatments as long as they want them, or that no infertility treatments can be made illegal? Contraceptives distributed freely to all women? And who’s a woman? Does it include girls undergoing puberty? If not, is there an age limit?


Jackson Amendment 5: H.J. Res. 32 establishes that “All persons shall have a right to decent, safe, sanitary, and affordable housing, which right shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State.” Everyone is guaranteed a bunk in the public dormitory? I can imagine worse things in the world.


Jackson Amendment 6: H.J. Res. 33 mandates a right, equivalent to the right of free speech: “All persons shall have a right to a clean, safe, and sustainable environment, which right shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State.” What if Mount Saint Helens interferes? Can it be sued? Do people living in Tornado Alley or the Gulf Coast have a right to homestead in safer regions, or the right to have the government somehow eliminate their risks? If smokestacks from Montreal mess with air quality in New Hampshire, to what are the people of New Hampshire entitled? Most of the Constitution is a document mandating processes or behavioral rights; this amendment would attempt to guarantee results.


Jackson Amendment 7: H.J. Res. 34, which declares that “The Congress of the United States shall tax all persons progressively in proportion to the income which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the United States.” This amendment is a recipe for judicial disaster, since progressive taxation is actually out of proportion to the income people receive, with people of low income having a smaller proportion of their income taxed and people with high income having a greater proportion of their income taxed.


Jackson Amendment 8: H.J. Res. 35 would add the following article to the U.S. Constitution:

`Section 1. Every person has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work, and to protection against unemployment.
`Section 2. Every person, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
`Section 3. Every person who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for themselves and their family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
`Section 4. Every person who works has the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of their interests.
`Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.’.

I admire fair portions of this amendment, but especially in Section 1 some overly vague and confused language works its way in. Does “the right to work” mean that if a person cannot find employment, the government will find such employment for that person? “Free choice of employment” is an unclear term that could be taken to mean many things, including the right of a person to waltz into a workplace and demand to be hired.


Jackson Amendment 9: H.J. Res. 36 would amend the constitution to “abolish the Electoral College and provide for the direct election of the President and Vice President by the popular vote of all citizens of the United States,” including citizens who live in Washington, DC, in territories, and in foreign countries.

Jackson’s package of constitutional amendments contains a number of positive intentions, but it also was plagued by vague and contradictory language that neglects procedure in favor of simply naming some desired social effect. The lack of clarity leads me to wonder whether Rep. Jackson had anyone critically read and review his legislation (or, if someone else wrote the bills for him, whether Rep. Jackson bothered to critically read and review the legislation before submitting it). The lack of attention to procedure leads me to wonder how conversant Rep. Jackson is with the document he wishes to amend.

The amendments don’t appear to be popular with the colleagues of Rep. Jackson, either. Not a single member of Congress has signed on to any of Rep. Jackson’s constitutional amendments as a cosponsor.

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