How do the formal and informal amendments processes compare as expressions of popular sovereignty?
The formal process of amending the United States Constitution is an example of popular sovereignty. Popular sovereignty means letting the people decide an issue. Since the formal amendment process requires the state legislatures to either start the amendment process or confirm the proposed amendment, the leaders that were elected by the voters should be listening to the wishes of the majority of the people that they represent. The same should be true of members of Congress, who also could start the amendment process. By representing the will of the majority of the people, popular sovereignty is present in the formal amendment process.
The Constitution can also be amended informally, which actually means changing the interpretation of the Constitution. For example, Supreme Court decisions could alter the meaning of the Constitution. Since the people do not elect Supreme Court justices, their voices usually do not factor into a decision issued by the Supreme Court. There are also some instances where the Constitution has been informally changed by custom or tradition. For example, the Constitution says nothing about the president having a Cabinet, yet every president has had one. This custom has become part of our government even though there is no constitutional basis for it. Sometimes, the passage of laws makes changes to the Constitution. For example, the Constitution said nothing about the government providing Social Security. However, the passage of the Social Security Act created the Social Security system. The same is true regarding the right to vote. There is nothing in the Constitution regarding an age when a person can vote. However, laws were passed that currently state the age of eighteen is when a person can vote.
The formal process for amending the Constitution is always an expression of popular sovereignty. The informal process of amending the Constitution can be an expression of popular sovereignty, but is not necessarily so.
Popular sovereignty, in this case, means the rule of the people. This is one of the major aspects of democracy. When the idea of popular sovereignty is adhered to, the voice of the people is heard. The people are able to make their opinions known on a given issue.
The formal process of amending the Constitution does this. The people do not get to vote directly on the amendment, but the legislatures that they elect do get to vote. This means that the people have a voice.
In the informal process, the people’s voice is not always heard. In some cases it is, as when Congress makes laws that informally change the meaning of the Constitution. At other times, it is not. An example of this is when the Supreme Court makes a ruling in a case and, thereby, changes the Constitution.
Thus, the formal process is always an expression of popular sovereignty while the informal process is only an expression of popular sovereignty at times.