Constitutional Exams?

I’ve been wondering about this for a while, and I figured this would be the best place for this question. Should an exam on the basic tenants of the Constitution be required when one registers to vote? It’s not the same principle used in the South to keep minorities from voting, because public education is required. Therefore, everyone should have a basic knowledge of the Constitution when they graduate from high school. A recent poll (I heard about it) showed that a large majority of college students showed that they thought the Bill of Rights endowed them with welfare, free health care, etc. Should these people be allowed to vote? We require immigrants to take a test on American history and government, yet our own citizens don’t have to know anything about either one. This seems to be an injustice, especially to those of us that do understand our government. Don’t take this wrong: I am not a racist, right-wing, ultra-conservative hate monger. Maybe people would want to vote and\or actually care about their government if they understood it and took part in it. Just my thoughts.

What a bad idea! All this would do is (maybe) prevent the public from voting for unconstitutional laws or lawmakers that might pass them. So what if they do? That’s why we have courts. Exclusion is always a mistake in a free society.

Well, I don’t know about anyone else, but I had to take (and pass) a test on the Constitution to complete eighth grade and again to graduate high school. Anyone else?

I take the opposite stance: We do like Belgium does… Mandatory Voting…

Belgium requires all citizens over 18 years old to vote. If you don’t vote, you pay stiff fines. I say its a good idea…


Jason R Remy

“No amount of legislation can solve America’s problems.”
– Jimmy Carter (1980)

jayron 32,

“Mandatory Voting…Belgium requires all citizens over 18 years old to vote. If you don’t vote, you pay stiff fines. I say its a good idea…”


Ahhhhhh! lol

No! With all the uniformed people out there, we would end up with more slick willys in office in the future.
I’d rather see all the idiots NOT vote.

PapaBear opines:

And if the judges are equally ignorant of Constitutional mandates? (Actually, a good case can be made that they are, but that’s another Great Debate). Or do we assume that the politicians elected by the great unwashed somehow will manage to make wise and informed decisions, including the appointment of judges, rather than running after the results of every opinion poll?

“Kings die, and leave their crowns to their sons. Shmuel HaKatan took all the treasures in the world, and went away.”

This question is moot. According to this Constitution of which you speak, voting is an inalienable right. As such no “strings” may be attached - no fees, no exams, no anything except proof of citizenship. It also cannot be mandated. Every citizen has the right not to exercize their rights. In other words, either of these suggestions, if tied directly to voting, would be unconstitutional, the very thing you’re lamenting against.

Being a judge, however, is not a right. We could certainly mandate that all prospective judges be tested for knowledge of the Constitution. Of course, the test results wouldn’t matter unless the “great unwashed” electorate paid attention.

As a prerequisite for entering and/or graduating high school? Excellent idea.


The overwhelming majority of people have more than the average (mean) number of legs. – E. Grebenik

Doctor Jackson is 100% right, and saved me the time of typing all that. :slight_smile: Also, I, like Kat, had to take a Constitution exam in high school (in fact, ours was simultaneously a contest sponsored by an outside group).

The biggest problem with judges being tested for what is in the Constitution doesn’t deal so much with a simple test of what is said, but how it should be interpreted. For example, even Constitutional scholars differ on the specific meanings of the First and Second Amendments, and can anybody point to where abortion is specifically mentioned? In other words, testing them on what is said may have very little to do with how they actually do their jobs of interpreting what it means.

Doctor Jackson is wrong (despite the opinion of our moderator, David B, whom I often respect) when he claims that voting is an inalienable right guaranteed by the Constitution. Article I, Section 2 states:

This latter language is repeated in Amendment XVI. Thus, it must be concluded that, at the Federal level, voting is construed, not to be a right, but a privilege granted by the states (I won’t contend that every state constitution so declares).
Now, it is immediately conceded that several limitations on the powers of the states have been enacted since those words were written. Amendment XV denies to the states the power to base the right to vote on the grounds of race, color, or previous condition of servitude; Amendment XIX denies to them the power to condition the vote on sex; Amendment XXIV denies to them the power to base that right on payment of taxes; Amendment XXVI denies to them the power to bar that right to otherwise qualified citizens who are eighteen or older.
OTOH, none of this prevents the states from limiting the right to vote to left-handers, or people who possess a certain amount of property, or people whose income does not derive from government moneys, or even (to follow up on the “great unwashed” notion) to those who have a certain minimum level of personal hygiene.
A case might be made that a disqualification by a state would impose an “disparate burden” so great as to amount to an end run around one of more of these provisions (few eighteen-year-olds have a quarter of a million dollars in property). It could be argued, with more certain footing, that such a disqualification would violate both Article IV and Amendment XIV, Section 1 (qualificatons and disqualifications would be unlikely to be identical from state to state).
OTOH, the judge or judges before whom such a case was brought might find the whole idea so repugnant that they would readily violate the law and the Constitution to vote their consciences, or follow the polls. Which, I think, is part of what this thread is about.


“Kings die, and leave their crowns to their sons. Shmuel HaKatan took all the treasures in the world, and went away.”

[[OTOH, none of this prevents the states from limiting the right to vote to left-handers, or people who possess a certain amount of property, or people whose income does not derive from government moneys, or even (to follow up on the “great unwashed” notion) to those who have a certain minimum level of personal hygiene.]]
While most such measures would probably not even be deemed to have a rational basis, thus failing to meet even the lowest level of equal protection scrutiny, because voting is a fundamental right this would also likely be subject to a much stricter level of scrutiny, requiring the state to justify the restriction by some compelling need. In short, no, these voting restrictions, by and large, won’t pass muster.

Tax Non-Voters!

 Anybody who doesn't vote doesn't get his income tax return for 2 years [till the next election].

Any employer who interferes with his employees’ right to vote, doesn’t get his returns either.
You can still refuse to vote, you just have to have more principles than greed. People with principles will probably vote anyway

Voting preserves our republic. Idiots don’t vote. This way, they will at least pay for their nation’s upkeep.

daniel p bostaph wrote:

Um, an income tax “return” is the form you fill out and send to the IRS, telling them how much tax you owe and how much you’ve already paid (via withholding and earlier estimated tax payments).

If in filling out your return, you discover that you owe extra tax money (due to insufficient withholding), not “getting your return” because you didn’t vote would be desirable, not penalizing.
And besides, if you’re penalized for not voting, are you going to be required to vote for a certain minimum number of candidates? Will you have to vote for or against at least one city/county measure? Or will just showing up at the poll and dumping off an empty ballot be enough?


I’m not flying fast, just orbiting low.

Big Iron suggests:

Well, as late as 1971, it was felt that the vote was not an eighteen-year-old’s fundamental right, and that forcing the several states (as we pedants like to say) to give up their laws mandating that voters be at least twenty-one required a Constitutional amendment.
We might hypothesize that the courts are much more likely tolerate restrictions long in place than newly implemented ones. Or, we might hypothesize that attitudes have changed sufficiently in twenty-eight years that now any restriction would be struck down by the courts, and non-voters or their advocates merely haven’t deemed it worthwhile to sue. Or, as I previously suggested, the Supremes might follow the election results.
I’ll do some research and see if there are any court decisions or dicta that bear on this matter.


“Kings die, and leave their crowns to their sons. Shmuel HaKatan took all the treasures in the world, and went away.”

Since the idea implicit in democracy is that the people’s ability to enforce their will on others by violence is replaced by their ability to do so through non-violent means (e.g. voting), I’d have to oppose restrictions on voting. However, I do think that gross ignorance should have some consequences, although I’m not sure what. Maybe graduation from high school. Although if they don’t care about knowledge enough to learn basic facts about the US government, they probably won’t care about not being able to get a high school diploma. I suppose disqualifying them from jury duty would be a good idea, but again that’s not much of a deterrent. Perhaps they should be allowed to vote, but not sign their names to political petitions. Here in California, all sorts of silly things get on the ballot. Maybe the best thing to do is quite spending so much money keeping people informed about elections. If you don’t know about the US government, you can still vote, but first you have to figure out where the polls are, and when the election is. Hey, I know! Let’s set up decoy voting booths! They’ll allow people to vote for made up offices. That way, stupid people will be technically allowed to vote, but none will because they’ll be too busy voting on who will fill the office of Grand High State Fobab or something like that.
But seriously:
PapaBear
Member posted 08-26-1999 07:02 PM

Let me share with you the life cycle of an uncostitutional proposition. First, the group that proposed it has to get a certain amount of signatures, which costs a lot of money. Then they pay for ads promoting it, while opponents pay for ads opposing it. More money. Then it's voted on. If it wins, its opponents take it court. They hire a bunch of lawyers to attack it, and its proponents hire a bunch of lawyers to defend it. The state often pays for the latter lawyers, and even if they don't they still have to pay for the judges and all the other court employees. More money. Unconstitutional laws are very expensive, and confusing, since people aren't sure whether or not they have to follow them.

-Ryan
" ‘Ideas on Earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter.’ " -Kurt Vonnegut, * Breakfast of Champions *

Oregon v. Mitchell (400 US 112), appears to be the SC’s latest word on the matter. This was the case that prompted Amendment XXVI.
A few classes of people, such as convicted felons, are still denied the right to vote by various state laws.
It appears that the “follow the election returns” argument has some weight to it; although in this day anything is possible (except skiing through a revolving door), I doubt that someone from Legal Aid arguing before the SC that a law barring convicted felons from voting would gain much sympathy.


“Kings die, and leave their crowns to their sons. Shmuel HaKatan took all the treasures in the world, and went away.”

If anyone should be required to take a constitutional exam, it should be the morons we elect to the house and senate. Sen. B. Boxer proposed a 1000% tax on guns and ammuniton. Someone pointed out that tax bills can only come from the house. Her response was the we have to get over this constitutional nit-picking. As a test I asked all 100 voting senator’s offices this question, If both the president elect and vice president elect die or are prevented from taking office who under the constitution becomes president? (The answer is found in article II section I Line 6.) Of the 100 only one got it right (Sen. Byrd) It appears that we have a group up on the Hill that does not understand the very document that established their institution.


ILLEGITIMUS NON CARBORUNDUM EST

Not much sympathy, indeed. In Richardson v. Ramirez, 418 U.S. 24 (1974) the Court explicitly found that a state may enforce such a bar. Not only is disenfranchisement of felons a common law tradition dating all the way back to Greek and Roman times, Section 2 of the 14th amendment reads, in part:

The Court found that this language, which many scholars (and the Court’s angry minority) contended means simply “enfranchise blacks or lose congressmen,” gives the several states an affirmative sanction to bar convicted felons from voting.

But your beleagured Legal Aid lawyer need not give up all hope. In Hunter v. Underwood, 471 U.S. 222 (1985) the court found that the right to so disenfranchise was not absolute. In the case, the Court found that a disenfranchisement law reflecting “purposeful racial discrimination” was not constitutional. Given the current state of the drug war, and specifically the “crack vs. cocaine” discrepancy discussed in another thread, your underdog might just score a point or two.

Livin’ on Tums, Vitamin E and Rogaine

Action Jackson said:

How did you ask them? How many actually responded?

David B,

I called thier offices and sent e-mials. (It is a local call for me) All in all it took two weeks to contact them all. I got a response from all the offices. Fifteen were wrong, one was correct, and the rest said that the staffers would look into it. (never heard anything from those staffers)


ILLEGITIMUS NON CARBORUNDUM EST

[[“because voting is a fundamental right this [a state law restricting the right to vote] would also likely be subject to a much stricter level of scrutiny, requiring the state to justify the restriction by some compelling need.”
Well, as late as 1971, it was felt that the vote was not an eighteen-year-old’s fundamental right, and that forcing the several states (as we pedants like to say) to give up their laws mandating that voters be at least twenty-one required a Constitutional amendment.

We might hypothesize that the courts are much more likely tolerate restrictions long in place than newly implemented ones. Or, we might hypothesize that attitudes have changed sufficiently in twenty-eight years that now any restriction would be struck down by the courts, and non-voters or their advocates merely haven’t deemed it worthwhile to sue. Or, as I previously suggested, the Supremes might follow the election results.]] Akatsukami
Voting unqualifiedly falls within the “fundamental interests” branch of equal protection jurisprudence. E.g., Kramer v. Union Free School District, 395 U.S. 621 (1969). See generally, AmJur.2d, Constitutional Law, section 750, n.24. Age (and residency) restrictions, however, have traditionally survived scrutiny.
[[Oregon v. Mitchell (400 US 112), appears to be the SC’s latest word on the matter. This was the case that prompted Amendment XXVI.

A few classes of people, such as convicted felons, are still denied the right to vote by various state laws.]]
That case and exclusion is, I think, a bit of a fluke – that exclusion was upheld by relying on section two of the 14th Amendment, which allows states to exclude people from voting in federal elections if they have participated “in rebellion, or other crime.”
[[It appears that the “follow the election returns” argument has some weight to it; although in this day anything is possible (except skiing through a revolving door), I doubt that someone from Legal Aid arguing before the SC that a law barring convicted felons from voting would gain much sympathy.]]
It didn’t get much sympathy in 1974, either, when the High Court upheld the felon exclusion (Richardson v. Ramirez).

Personally, I hate the “S.Ct. follows the elections” theory.