Eight reasons we need a new state constitution
Thu, Mar 5, 2009 (midnight)
Wad up the state constitution and whip out a fresh sheet of paper, something’s not right about Nevada.
UNLV Law Professor Tuan Samahon thinks our constitution’s three-legged stool—executive, judicial and legislative branches—is wobbly and unstable because that third leg doesn’t have its share of the power. Imagine that—the notion of giving more power to the insane clown posse in Carson City. But if you think about checks and balances and remember Gov. Jim Gibbons’ attempt to stop funding to state agencies unilaterally last year, you’ll recall the significance of having a body of representatives able to vote on matters such as that. We squeaked by that constitutional loophole thanks to the moxie of the state controller, but sooner or later, something’s gonna give.
So since then, it’s become more apparent to Samahon and a group of like-minded legal theoreticians that the document, adopted in a hurry in 1864, sucks. Eight reasons, then, that Samahon and the Weekly would like to see it overhauled before he hightails it out of Nevada this spring for a better job at Villanova and we remain in-state:
1. Lots of states do it. Really. Two-thirds of them have adopted newer versions than their originals. Constitution 2.0.
2. The Interim Finance Committee has way too much power. To put it briefly: Budget changes in the legislative off-season can be made with the approval of this little committee, without a vote by the whole Legislature, which means if you aren’t represented by the members on this little committee, you’re not represented in those budget decisions. In fact, 83 percent of the state is not represented by this panel.
3. It would be a blast to convene a constitutional convention, because if there’s anything we’re good at, it’s conventions.
4. Samahon’s riddle: According to our constitution, if you want to impeach someone, you have to call a special session of the Legislature. Who has the power to call a special session? The governor. So who calls a special session if you want to impeach the governor?
5. Our nonunitary executive branch is schizophrenic. We don’t just elect a governor and let him pick the cabinet, we elect a lieutenant governor and an attorney general, etc., meaning they’re not necessarily on the same team. There’s no Obama-Biden-Clinton united front. “Some people view it as a check against tyranny,” Samahon says. “I view it as a flaw.” Too many divided interests for executive efficiency.
6. Blue Ribbon Panel! If public officials fear a convention in which interest groups muck up the whole process, we could try to amend the constitution with a super chunky amendment that basically just revises the whole document. But what a mess. Instead, we should get together a lot of legal and political geniuses as a Blue Ribbon Panel to draft a new one and then give it to the politicians. That way, brains are involved.
7. The seldom-in-session Legislature cannot respond quickly enough to anything. Say the Nevada Supreme Court hands down an “utterly ridiculous decision that the public is not happy about”—who can enact related legislation if the lawmakers aren’t due back for 18 months?
8. We just like the idea of starting over. It’s like bankruptcy, only it doesn’t screw with your credit.