Friday, April 2, 2010

A Constitutional convention can rein in Washington

James LeMunyon has written an interesting opinion for The Wall Street Journal wherein he advocates that the states take the lead in reining in the congressional excesses and abuses through a never used provision of the U.S. Constitution:  Article V:
The U.S. Congress is in a state of serious disrepair and cannot fix itself. It has reached this point over the course of many years—in fact over many decades. Regardless of the party in power, Congress has demonstrated a growing inability to effectively address the major issues of our time, including soaring federal debt and the extension of federal authority to states and localities.

The only effective remedy is constitutional reform to rein in congressional excesses and abuses. But Congress can't be expected to propose amendments to fix itself, as it has an inherent conflict of interest.

The remedy is in Article V of the Constitution, which permits a convention to be called for the purpose of proposing constitutional amendments. Any proposed amendment then would have to be ratified by both houses of 38 state legislatures (three-fourths of the states). This entails 76 separate votes in the affirmative by two houses of the 38 state legislatures. (Nebraska, with its unicameral legislature, would be an exception.)

Interest in calling a first-ever Article V convention is growing at the state level. A petition for such a convention passed the Florida Senate last month, to propose amendments requiring a balanced budget and to restrain the growth of the national government. If approved by the House, Florida would be the 20th state with an active call to do so. In the Virginia House of Delegates, I introduced a resolution (H.J. 183) calling for a constitutional convention to restrain the national government as well. Requests by two-thirds or 34 states are required for a convention to be called.
Gary Palmer and Harold See express complementary thoughts today in The Washington Times.

There is an excellent review of the Article V constitutional convention amendment process in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy Although it has never been used to amend the constitution, it has provided the impetus for the Congress to do so:
Although the convention method for proposing amendments has never been used, the threat of a convention has sometimes spurred Congress to action. During debates over the Constitution’s ratification, the threat of a second constitutional convention was a key factor in Congress proposing the Bill of Rights.22 There have been several occasions where the number of state applications for a convention was close to reaching the required two‐thirds; at least once during the course of events leading to the adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment, the threat of a constitutional convention may have spurred Congress to act preemptively to propose the desired amendment itself.23 The prospect of a convention may also have played a role in leading Congress to propose the Twenty‐first, Twentysecond, and Twenty‐fifth Amendments.
Much of the opposition to attempts to amend the constitution through a convention comes from concerns that it could become a "runaway convention" exceeding the scope of its mandate and potentially radically altering the Constitution.  Ezra Klein at The Washington Post expresses this in his response to LeMunyon's piece:
LeMunyon also mentions an amendment banning "unfunded mandates." He's unclear on what he means by this, but it would likely involve giving states an excuse to cut federally directed programs, such as special education funding or disabilities protections. States would love it, but it'd be terrible policy for obvious reasons. And that's not even mentioning flavor of the week culture war amendments – school prayer, same-sex marriage, flag-burning – that could sneak out of a constitutional convention. The Constitution could use serious reform, but the institutional changes of the type procedural-minded liberals advocate don't have the constituency that silly and reckless proposals do.
What breathtaking arrogance.  In other words, Klein believes the "constituencies" of the States cannot be trusted with their own governance.  We need procedural-minded liberals to do it for us.  The Founders certainly didn't believe that.  That's why Article V exists.  The best call to arms I have found on the Constitutional convention front is from Josie Wales (a pseudonym, I'm sure) at Big Government:
Every amendment to our Constitution was proposed by 2/3 of both houses of Congress. When there have been possibilities that 2/3 of state legislatures would propose an amendment Congress has pre-empted. Perhaps Congress, and the national government as a whole, feared a convention would completely alter our system of government, as did the Constitutional Convention. This is the fear we need to engender. If a convention is called, we will radically restore the limits of power on the national government to prevent its hegemony over the rights of individuals and the powers reserved to the states. We will radically alter its cash flow, and its ability to subvert the meaning of words for political gain. (emphasis added)

Many think Congress will not acquiesce to our demands, but we have a legitimate Constitutional argument to force its hand. “Shall” is unequivocal. And if the progressives think it is not then the vast majority of laws passed in this country, including their precious socialized medicine, are illegitimate. Hell, the 1st Amendment would be absolutely useless if “shall” is not absolute, let alone every other limit on government regarding our rights. The Supreme Court cannot ignore this fact, and 2/3 of states petitioning the courts will not be ignored. Furthermore, Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper 85:

“By the fifth article of the plan, the Congress will be obliged ‘on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the States…to call a convention for proposing amendments’…The words of this article are peremptory. The Congress ‘shall call a convention.’ Nothing in this particular is left to the discretion of that body.” (emphasis added)
We should be ready to call for an Article V convention, regardless. This requires a focus not only on national politics, but state politics. A majority in Congress will help us avoid a conflict over Congress’s obligation to call a convention, but it is the state legislatures that must call for the convention. We need 34 states to call a convention. We need 38 states to ratify whatever comes out of that convention. It must be our goal to take back the state legislatures in as many states as possible. And we cannot forget that goal in our drive to replace Congress. [snip]

We are not beyond the brink, but I see Tyranny raising its ugly head on the not too distant horizon. “Don’t tread on me” means nothing unless we are willing to use every tool at our disposal to stop Tyranny in its tracks. Article V is a fairly potent tool, and the one most suited to our times.

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