Sunday, May 09, 2021

Beware of Those Wishing To Rewrite the US Constitution


Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tex.,
one of the visionaries who's
totally in favor of a "Convention
of States" to rewrite the
US Constitution

Bear with me here, as this is complicated: The movement among conservatives to demand a new "Article V Constitutional Convention" to rewrite portions of the US Constitution unpleasing to conservatives has several moving parts. The NC House, just on March 17th, voted 61-52 to join a bunch of other states (largely controlled by Republicans) to call for a new convention of states to amend the US Constitution in three broad areas: limiting the federal government’s powers, restraining fiscal spending, and establishing term limits for members of Congress and other federal elected officials. (The same resolution is now pending in the NC Senate.)

Those three action areas may sound benign to you, but they aren't and the first two especially raise the small hairs on the back of my neck. Just the first of those three items -- "limiting the federal government's powers" -- could open a treasure chest of extreme rewrites, everything from doing away with the policing of environmental degradation (do powerful businesses really want all those regs on their activities?) to overturning marriage equality for gay couples. Commentators opposed to a new Constitutional Convention warn of a "runaway convention," since nothing like this has ever been done before, and there are no rules.

First, for background, here's the full text of Article V:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.

"On the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states." In the current math of 50 total states, that means 34 can call for a new constitutional convention, and there are no set rules for who gets to be the delegates from the states, and how those delegates would be chosen (but you can bet your sweet bippy that in the case of North Carolina, Phil Berger and Tim Moore will be holding all the chits). 

Here's where it gets a little more complicated: The resolution in the NC House calling for a new convention that passed in March is being pushed by a pressure group calling itself "The Convention of States Action" (COS). On their website, they claim that 13 states have signed on, with a number of others happily pending (like North Carolina, waiting for action in Phil Berger's Senate).

But there's another separate push for a constitutional convention, specifically (and only?) for the purpose of inserting a balanced budget amendment, that has gathered some 28 states as supporters, which would be (if my high school math hasn't completely failed me) just six short of the required 34. This movement is the work of a group called the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force (BBATF), and its success has alarmed many progressive orgs like Common Cause. In a current fundraising appeal, Common Cause alleged this:

Now that the far-right has seen their agenda and their choice for president rejected by the American voters -- we anticipate a major escalation in their drive to rig the rules of our democracy to get their way.

You see, once an Article V Constitutional Convention is called, everything is on the table. Freedom of the press. Freedom of religion. Free speech. Everything.

Many constitutional experts have warned that this is the biggest present threat to our democracy -- and few Americans have even heard of it! But it’s happening as we speak, behind closed doors and out of the public eye.

You take a look at some of the characters cheering on these constitutional rewrites, and you're not reassured that their agenda isn't animated by Trumpist bullying "to get their way." On the COS "Endorsements" page, we see the likes of Ron DeSantis, Sean Hannity, Mark Meadows, Rand Paul, Sarah Palin, Dr. James Dobson, etc. Why, you might get the idea that they had ulterior motives. 


The Article V Constitutional Convention came to my attention because a reader of this blog (thank you, SM) saw a small yardsign in Watauga County advocating a Convention of States for the express purpose of term-limits for members of Congress, which might garner slightly more support from the unsuspecting general public than some of the more open-ended policy goals.


Tom Fisher said...

I’ve been seeing the yard signs around town and they REALLY do not understand the Pandora’s box that this would be.

Anonymous said...

Term limits - what a lovely idea. How about an amendment to the Constitution, rather than an entire rewrite? But that would block their REAL aim. A return to slavery, anyone?

Mike said...

Tom Fisher, yes they do understand. And, because the Republican party is far more unified than are Democrats they can push messages successfully, in and out of conventions. Especially those they have always pushed since the 1930s--corporate power, free markets, promote the wealthy elites, and they do this today by suckering lots deceptively with fear of liberalism and distaste of cultural diversity, which are always products of egg-head thinking and now coastal liberals.
I wouldn't be fooled by the supposed Republican conflict over Cheney (a nasty politician in her own right). This "fight" is only strengthening the Republican Party behind a single identity and Trump is a convenient symbol of that. Along with upcoming gerrymandering, unless Democrats change their structural activity in many states, it is very likely they will gain back the House. It might be a little different in the Senate, but this is no time for complacency.