Grassroots Commentary

Why America Truly Needs a Convention of States

Paul Gardiner · Dec. 5, 2014

The recent issuance of the Presidential Executive Order dealing with illegal aliens (considered unconstitutional by many observers) coupled with an announcement that the national debt has reached over 18 trillion dollars is causing great alarm for many Americans. John Adams warned in 1826 that “there are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by sword, the other is by debt.” Many people feel that America’s debt problem is a spending problem that will continue because Washington, DC, will never change itself. Any meaningful, long term “fix” or systemic change to the way Washington operates, regardless of which political party is in power, must come from outside the self-serving interests residing in that city.

The extremely high national debt, the questionable illegal alien Executive Order, and the many recent federal government scandals (Internal Revenue Service, Obamacare, Veterans Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Secret Service, Benghazi, etc.) are causing concerned citizens to ask what realistically can be done to change the way in which federal bureaucrats and politicians operate. Moreover, many people believe that the federal government has grown far too powerful and too frequently abuses private citizens.

In discussing a remedy for the above morass of problems, it is useful to remember that in 1788, when the American Constitution was adopted as the law of the land, the several states created the national (federal) government – repeat, the states created the federal government, not the other way round! The intent of the Founders was for the state governments to have and retain the bulk of governing power and authority within their state borders. The states granted certain limited powers to the federal government such as taxing power, regulation of trade among the states, national defense, and so forth. Today, many observers are calling on the states to re-assert their Constitutional governing power and authority through amendments to the Constitution.

Much recently has been said about the pros and cons of state legislatures calling for a Convention of States (COS) to propose amendments to the Constitution. Authority for a two-thirds majority of state legislatures (34) to call for a COS exists in Article V of the Constitution. In fact, provision to allow the states to call for a COS to propose amendments was expressly incorporated into Article V in case, among other things, the national government was overstepping its Constitutional authority – sound familiar? Any amendments proposed by a COS would have to be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures (38) before becoming part of the Constitution and law of the land. This follows the same ratification procedure for amendments proposed by members of the US Congress.

As of December 2014, three state legislatures (Georgia, Florida, and Alaska) have passed resolutions/bills calling for a COS for the limited purpose of proposing amendments to 1) limit the power and overreach of the federal government; 2) impose term limits on federal officials; and 3) impose fiscal restraints on the federal government. The effort to coordinate state legislatures to uniformly call for a COS for the above limited purpose is being led by Citizens for Self-Governance headquartered in Austin, Texas. Further information about the COS effort can be found at www.conventionofstates.com. Concerned citizens are encouraged to investigate the COS effort and support it as described on the COS web site. Meaningful and lasting changes are urgently needed to the way the Washington professional “class” of politicians and bureaucrats operate!

As with most actions requiring major change, there are numerous naysayers speaking against a COS. Many of these people characterize a COS as a “constitutional convention” as if the purpose is to rewrite the US Constitution. As explained above, this is not the case. A COS will propose amendments to the existing Constitution – the only difference is that amendments will be proposed by delegates from at least 34 state legislatures rather than proposed in the usual way by members of the US Congress.

Naysayers also often voice the threat of a “runaway convention” where rogue amendments will be proposed and approved by a majority of convention delegates and then sent around to all the states for ratification. There are several reasons why this will not happen, but perhaps the most convincing reason is the fact that ratification requires affirmative votes by at least 38 state legislatures. Each state legislature (except for Nebraska with only one legislative body) has a House of Representatives and a Senate meaning that a total of 76 individual legislative bodies (75 if Nebraska is included) must approve an amendment before it becomes part of the Constitution. It is very difficult indeed to believe that a rogue amendment (such as revising the text of existing amendments, eliminating the Supreme Court, or requiring property ownership in order to vote, etc.) would receive passing votes in both Democrat and Republican controlled legislative chambers in all 76 legislative bodies! Not going to happen.

There are additional reasons and safeguards that prevent rogue amendments from being proposed and considered by delegates to a COS: 1) any amendment outside the stated purpose for a COS is subject to adverse legal challenge by members of the US Congress which could involve years of litigation; 2) delegates to a COS can forfeit their delegate positions and be subjected to fines and/or criminal penalties if they propose or vote for any amendment outside the stated purpose of the COS – two cases in point are the Indiana and Florida state legislatures which passed bills stipulating in effect that a delegate proposing or voting for a rogue amendment at a COS is guilty of a “class D felony” (Indiana) or a “felony of the third degree” (Florida).

Naysayers also often say that there are no rules or procedures established for a COS, so how do Americans know what will happen? In fact, a group called the Assembly of State Legislatures (see www.theassemblyofstatelegislatures.org) has been regularly meeting to establish rules and procedures for a forthcoming COS as described herein. Thus far, over 100 law makers from 32 states have participated in these meetings.

In sum, the beginnings of a long term “fix” for America’s problem of an overreaching, frequently abusive, and overly large federal government is a Convention of States for the limited purpose of proposing Constitutional amendments to 1) limit the power and overreach of the federal government; 2) impose term limits on federal officials; and 3) impose fiscal restraints on the federal government. Examples of proposed amendments might include term limits of 12 to 15 total years for members of the US Congress and the federal judiciary; a bona fide balanced budget requirement for the federal government; override power on questionable Presidential Executive Orders and financially onerous federal regulations and laws (Obamacare?) by a super majority vote of state legislatures, and so forth.

Needless to say, it behooves every concerned American to seriously consider supporting this very important COS effort and get actively involved. Enough of the naysayers!

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