Re-Writing The Constitution is Only 6 States Away
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union” — so begins the most treasured document in American history, the United States Constitution. Right now we are only 6 states away from re-writing/amending that document. Any such process should include the input of public opinion. It’s already documented that for 90 percent of us our actual influence on government policy is around zero. Our political system is something akin to a game show or a sporting contest where “we the people” yell and scream at our televisions hoping to somehow magically influence a game we have no control over. Now threatening to come along is the biggest game show of them all, a convention to rewrite the Constitution; the document by and for “we the people”. A convention in which we the people would have zero input. It’s a conservative lead effort that so far has the backing of twenty-eight states and only needs six more to meet the threshold of thirty-four. If it hits thirty-four we can’t stop a convention. Amending the Constitution via a Convention of States rather than the traditional method of voting in Congress fast tracks the Amendment process and effectively silences the public’s opinion on the very laws that govern them.
First, some history: There are two ways to amend the Constitution. In the first method an amendment passes both the Senate and the House of Representatives by a two-thirds vote. Then the states ratify the amendment by a three-fourths vote. All twenty-seven of our Amendments have been passed through this method. The second method is through a Convention of the States (aka a Con-Con or Constitutional Convention). Congress is forced to call such a convention if thirty-four states submit applications. Right now twenty-eight states have done that. (Note, thirty-three states currently have a Republican lead legislature). If enough applications are received then states choose delegates (aka commissioners) to represent them at the convention. These commissioners enter a room to propose, discuss and ratify amendments. Any amendments they adopt must then be sent to either state legislatures or “state ratifying conventions” for ratification. Three-fourths of all states must ratify the amendment for it to pass.
The crucial difference between the two methods of amending the Constitution is the potential for drastic change in a convention and its lack of input from the general population. The last Constitutional Convention was in 1787 when delegates came together to amend the Articles of Confederation. Instead of amending them, the entire Articles of Confederation were thrown out. A new Constitution was created; the one we have today. They also agreed to keep discussions and votes secret until the convention ended. So the only precedent we have for a Con-Con is a precedent of entirely scrapping the original document in a series of deliberations that were kept secret from the public. Proponents of the movement for a new Con-Con argue the scope of the convention’s proposed amendments could be held in check and would focus on a set of pre-determined issues. The bottom line though is that the last convention was held over two-hundred years ago and the details, mechanisms of action, and ability to keep a convention in check are utterly vague and undefined. Perhaps more alarming is that the organization spearheading the movement for a convention is a right wing Christian organization.
We live in an extremely partisan time. Sadly, parties seem more concerned with advancing their platform and being “the winner” than they are with compromise and advancing the best platform for the people. The Con-Con movement looks no different. Leading the movement is an organization called Citizens for Self-Governance (CSG) and heading CSG is a man best known for co-founding the Tea Party Patriots and for writing regularly on Breitbart. It’s hard to not notice that Breitbart and the Tea Party have strong partisan backgrounds. Neither are known for their promotion of compromise and common ground. The Convention of States movement openly states that they are a project of CSG. As the leader of a movement to re-write our Constitution the values of CSG are naturally relevant and important to the conversation. A quick trip over to CSG’s website reveals that “The Bible & Politics” is the fourth menu item on their home page. Clicking that brings you to a five part education series on the Bible and politics. So what we have is a conservative Christian organization promoting a movement to amend our Constitution in a secretive convention with little public input. Separation of Church and state seems hazy here.
Our traditional method of amending the Constitution at least provides transparency to the public and a chance to express public opinion. Any Amendments are introduced to both the House of Representatives and the Senate for a vote. That takes time. That allows for media attention and public support or outcry to be voiced. What the Con-Con effort wants is an all at once fast track approach to amending the constitution with as little input from the public as possible. If CSG’s motivations for amending the Constitution are truly to benefit all Americans and are bipartisan in nature why not use the traditional means of submitting an amendment to Congress? It’s worked for twenty-seven amendments in the past. Why the need for greater secrecy and expediency? If we are a country with a government of the people, by the people, and for the people then we should be looking for more ways to involve the people in any attempts to amend our Constitution, rather than less. Let us not forget too the power of money in today’s politics. Sending delegates into a room to debate new amendments to the Constitution sounds like a fine time for lobbyists to strut their stuff. There is no bigger legislative prize than a Constitutional amendment. The amount of influence corporations, lobbyists, and big money donors have on our politics is huge. There is a real threat that any amendments passed in a Con-Con would simply be those with the most money behind them. What we need is less money in politics and a political system that is more responsive to the general population. What we do not need is a convention that amends the Constitution in a manner that creates even less room for public involvement and more room for big money.
*Ironically enough the leading opposition to a Con-Con is another conservative group, the John Birch Society. Check out their website for how you can get involved in stopping this movement. According to their website 10 states are being targeted by advocates of the Con-Con movement. Those states are: Arizona, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Virginia, South Carolina, and Maine.