Two Flags One Youth: Age requirements to run for office in Italy and the U.S., time for a change?
- WTI Magazine #134 Dec 17, 2020
Article 2 of the U.S Constitution establishes that individuals must be 25 years of age to serve in the House of Representatives, 30 for the Senate, and 35 for the Presidency. Similarly, Italy’s Constitution imposes that Deputies must be 25, Senators 40, and Prime Ministers at least 50. The founding fathers of both nations crafted such clauses in 1787 (for the U.S), and 1946 (for Italy.) Today, much has changed. Nevertheless, we have failed to reform our country’s system to match our changing times.
The founders’ argument in favor of hard age requirements was not based on life expectancy, but youth incompetence. The American George Mason, a 64-year-old constitutional disserter, argued in 1787 that “[…] his political opinions at the age of 21 were too crude and erroneous to merit an influence on public measures.” In the same discussion of note transcribed in the Journal of the Federal Convention June 22nd 1787, James Wilson, a future Supreme Court Justice, begged to differ. The 45-year-old argued that trying to limit access to public office based on age would “damp the efforts of genius, and of laudable ambition.”
In Italy, prominent contemporary politicians such as Giorgia Meloni (among the leaders of the country’s right-wing coalition) even presented a constitutional amendment to lower the age requirement to 18. The amendment, presented in 2010 when Meloni was Minister of Youth, eventually failed to pass a key Parliamentary vote and quickly became ‘old news.’
I came to this country at the age of 18 from Italy. A blessed American passport holder thanks to my Hispanic-American mother, I quickly discovered my love for Constitutional law at Franklin & Marshall College. Which got me wondering: why am I old enough to get drafted and die in some Middle Eastern desert, but too young to run for federal office until I am 25? I still haven’t found a satisfying answer. Stringent constitutionalists, however, have done a poor job at providing one as well. Why, you may ask. In my opinion, the topic gets pushed to the back burner in D.C and Rome, it’s not a priority because public opinion does not make it one.
To those on the left side of the aisle I pose the following question. Many of you in the U.S believe that the 2nd Amendment was meant for ‘muskets’ and ‘bayonets’ and the right to bear arms should be curtained. Thus, wouldn’t you agree that age requirements to run for office set at a time when people lived until 35 on average are also worth amending?
To conservatives I pose the following conundrum. In Italy many argue that elected officials have the highest duties to the nation and therefore should be of “an age of responsibility.” You also argue that those new to the democratic process (18-year-olds) are “too inexperienced to be eligible for office.” If ‘political experience’ is what you are concerned about, then you should have no problem lowering age restrictions. After all, ‘incompetent youngsters’ would get eaten alive on the campaign trail, right?
I think most of us can agree that the usual politicians, now in office for decades riding the high horse of incumbency, have tired us all. Our nations are in debt, our politicians are getting richer, the wages of the ‘average Joe’ are stagnant, it is time to throw fresh, brilliant minds into the ring.
There are, of course, also the issues of turnout and political efficacy – the citizens’ faith in government and their ability to influence policy. Americans and Italians under 29 have historically been, by far, the group least likely to vote and believe in bottom-up policy change. This problem progressively intensifies the younger an individual is. Most blame this phenomenon on the youth’s lack of interest, ephemeral pursuits, or simply the desire to get drunk and turn off their parent’s TV playing their biased political channel of choice.
I disagree, and the data backs me up. The U.S Census Bureau notes that voter turnout among 18 to 29-year-olds went from 20 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2018, the largest percentage point increase for any age group — a 79 percent jump. Something is brewing within the U.S and Italian youth political movements. Young people want to make a difference, they feel they can make a difference. Now more than ever, our octogenarian politicians should step up and address the issue of constitutional age restrictions to run for federal public office.