Federal Constitution Convention
There is a new effort in Tennessee to pass resolutions and bills calling for an Article V Constitutional Convention. Eagle Forum is no less concerned about these proposals than we have been for the past 30 years:
SB 1432 by *Norris ( HB 1379 by *Brooks K)
Constitutional Conventions - As introduced, establishes that general assembly appoints and recalls delegates to Article V convention; requires delegates to abide by instructions given to delegates by the general assembly
STATUS: SB1432 passed the Senate floor 30-1 on February 24, 2014
CALLING FOR AN ARTICLE V CONVENTION:
SJR 0493 by *Kelsey
Constitutional Conventions - Makes application to the U.S. Congress to call a constitutional convention for the sole purpose of proposing a federal balanced budget amendment.
HJR 0548 by *Powers Constitutional Conventions - Makes application to Congress for the purpose of calling a convention of states concerning balanced budgeting.
STATUS: SJR 593 passed the Senate floor on Thursday 28-0-1.
STATUS: HJR548 is on the House Floor Monday evening.
NOTE: Regardless of all the 'assurances' about the safety of the never-used-portion of the US Constitution, there is NO underlying or existing 'authority' for making these assurances. I recognize the grave concerns that we all have about the future of this country, but I continue to believe that this path is very risky as Elaine's testimony clearly reveals.I would invite you to read this by my friend:
Statement or the Record by laine Donnelly, President, Center for Military Readiness on an Article V Convention
ACTION: I hope that you will contact your legislator to express your conern about Tennessee joining this effort.
These bills/resolutions are coming out of a genuine and legitimate fear for the future of our country and as you may notice, are being sponsored by our very good friends. I can't imagine a conservative that would not want to have a Balanced Budget. There seems to be three ways to do that: Raise taxes, cut programs, or perhaps it would also be helpful if states would refuse the federal programs on which the money is conditioned.
The resolutions are similar to those that have both passed in the past and have been proposed in the past. SB1432 is an effort to answer many of the questions proposed by those like Eagle Forum, have pointed out that once CONGRESS CONVENES a convention (as Article V provides) have remained unanswered.
TWENTY QUESTIONS ABOUT A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION.
However, one does have to wonder -- if the body that is so out of control now is put in charge of the Convention as Article V stipulates, would they even follow the directions in this bill?
The biggest question we have is this: If Congress is not following the Constitution now, what makes us think they would follow the Constitution if it is amended? And....what would we be able to do about it?
Tennessee Eagle Forum will continue to oppose these proposals believing that we have a DISOBEDIENT CONGRESS not a DEFICIENT CONSTITUTION.
Move to rescind the previous Tennessee calls for a Federal Constitutional Convention has achieved COMPLETE VICTORY!!
**SENATE VICTORY** -- PROTECTING OUR US CONSTITUTION:
UPDATE: HJR 30 was heard in Senate Finance where, on May 18, it passed 8-1. After being on the Senate floor calendar four times, on Thursday evening, June 2, 2010, I am thrilled to report that, with no debate, HJR30 passed 29-1-1. We are VERY grateful to Republican Leader Mark Norris, Collierville, for agreeing to be the sponsor of this very important resolution in the Senate. Sen. Norris does a lot of the ‘heavy lifting’ regarding the budget negotiations for the Republican Caucus as well as having many other responsibilities as Leader. We were honored that he agreed to take on yet one more responsibility. Thank you Sen. Norris!!
HJR 0030 by *Hill, Moore, White
General Assembly - As introduced, rescinds three specific resolutions from 1977 and any other resolutions passed at any time that call for a federal constitutional convention.
Be sure to click on and read:
Why the Tennessee Legislature Should Rescind Its Calls For a Federal Constitutional Convention
Letter from retired Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court to Phyllis Schlafly on the dangers of a Federal Constitutional Convention HERE.
Dangers of a Constitutional Convention
Written by Larry Greenley
The current economic crisis has served as a wakeup call to many Americans that there is a major problem with the policies emanating from Washington, both from the Federal Reserve as well as from the federal government.
This problem is not new, of course, but many Americans are becoming much more concerned about the effects that distant policymakers, politicians, and bankers are having on their lives and livelihoods, and they are becoming involved in political action for the first time.Perhaps the most visible manifestation of this great awakening to date would be the nationwide “Tea Party” events of April 15, when a million Americans rallied against big government and (in many cases) against the Fed, many of them for the first time.
But what, specifically, should be done to restore good government? Also, what strategy should be employed to get it done? Can Congress be persuaded to pass legislation restoring good government? Should Congress be encouraged to submit one or more constitutional amendments to the states for ratification? And if Congress does not appear willing to do what needs to be done, should the country hold its first constitutional convention (con-con) since the convention of 1787 that drafted the Constitution? Please read more here.
by Phyllis Schlafly, December 19, 2008
One of the most popular, successful, and genuine grassroots movements of the last decade has been the movement for Term Limits. All polls show that more than 70 percent of Americans support Term Limits for Members of Congress.
This majority is based on the voters' exasperation with how the current system is rigged for incumbents. PACs contribute 10 times more to incumbents than to challengers and, even in the stunning election of 1994, the reelection rate for incumbents was over 90 percent. The advocates of Term Limits believe that our country would be better served by a Congress of citizens who serve for a few years only, rather than by career politicians.
As a result of the popular demand for Term Limits, 23 states passed laws to limit the number of terms their own Members of Congress may serve. (And 21 states limited terms for their own state legislators).
The Term Limits movement was stopped in its tracks on May 22, 1995 by the outrageous act of judicial dictatorship called U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton. In that 5-to-4 decision (despite a brilliant 89-page dissent by Justice Clarence Thomas), the Supreme Court struck down the laws of those 23 states that imposed limits on the terms of their own Members of Congress.
Meanwhile, the effort to pass a constitutional amendment to impose Term Limits failed to get the needed two-thirds majority in either House of Congress. Term Limits advocates, who played a big role in the election of the new Republican Congress in November 1994, felt betrayed.
When the organization called "U.S. Term Limits" gathered in late 1995 to plan its new strategy, they unfortunately took a wrong turn.
They adopted a plan to plunge America into a Constitutional Convention. Article V of the U.S. Constitution requires that "on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, [Congress] shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments." This method has never been used; all 27 Amendments now in the Constitution were adopted in the traditional way (passage by a two-thirds majority in each House of Congress followed by ratification by three-fourths of the states).
U.S. Term Limits predicts that it can get the necessary two-thirds (34) of the states by direct lobbying of the legislatures in some states and by using the Initiative/Referendum method in other states. U.S. Term Limits has budgeted $10 million to carry out this plan.
The plan to put initiatives on the ballot to instruct state legislators to vote for a Constitutional Convention (Con Con) for Term Limits is well under way. U.S. Term Limits has targeted 18 states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming.
Have you ever asked people to sign a petition? The circulator says, "Will you sign our petition for (fill in the blank)?" If the respondent supports the goal, he usually signs promptly and seldom, if ever, reads the petition.
But the devil is in the details. The petitions circulated by U.S. Term Limits have a 14-line title followed by three solid pages of single-spaced, small-type text on legal-length paper. If you read the text, you won't sign the petition.
Those who do will be surprised to find that they have signed a petition to amend their state constitution to require state legislators to pass a resolution requesting Congress "to call a convention for proposing amendments to the Constitution." Furthermore, they will have signed a requirement that anyone who does not so vote will have printed adjacent to his name on the ballot in future elections: "Disregarded voters' instruction on term limits."
But the "voters' instruction" to state legislators is not for "term limits"! The voters' instruction is to vote for a Constitutional Convention, and that is a horse of another color! Most voters who sign the Term Limits petition will have no idea that they are requiring their state legislature to make application to Congress to convene a Constitutional Convention. U.S. Term Limits call this the "instruct and inform method." It certainly instructs state legislators and candidates, but it is downright dishonest in the way that petition signers are "informed".
Don't Risk a Constitutional Convention
Most of us have watched a Republican National Convention or a Democratic National Convention on television. We've seen the bedlam of people milling up and down the aisles. We've watched how the emotions of the crowd can be stirred, and we've felt the tension when thousands of people make group decisions in a huge auditorium.
Now imagine holding the Republican and Democratic National Conventions together -- at the same time and in the same hall. Imagine the confrontations of partisan politicians and pressure groups, the clash of liberals and conservatives, and the tirades of the activists -- all demanding that their view of constitutional issues prevail. Imagine the gridlock as the Jesse Helms caucus tries to work out constitutional change with the Jesse Jackson caucus! No wonder Rush Limbaugh said that a Con Con would be the worst thing that could happen to America and that it might signal time to "move to Australia."
That's what it would be like if the United States calls a new Constitutional Convention (Con Con) for the first time in 209 years. It would be a self-inflicted wound that could do permanent damage to our nation, to our process of self-government, and possibly even to our liberty.
A Con Con would throw confusion, uncertainty, and court cases around our governmental process by opening up our entire Constitution to be picked apart by special-interest groups that want various changes. It would make America look foolish in the eyes of the world, unsettle our financial markets, and force all of us to re-fight the same battles that the Founding Fathers so brilliantly won in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. George Washington and James Madison both called our Constitution a "miracle". We can't count on a miracle happening again.
The most influential players in a new Constitutional Convention would be Big Media (such as Dan Rather and Sam Donaldson) giving on-the-spot interviews and predictions of what they are trying to make happen. The media elite have made themselves players in the political process, not just observers, and a Constitutional Convention would be the biggest media event of our time. It would be an irresistible opportunity for Big Media to guide (if not actually dictate) the result.
Under the presidency of George Washington, the original Constitutional Convention of 1787 deliberated in complete secrecy and there were no leaks to the press. That is obviously impossible today. The ratio at the 1988 and 1992 national party conventions was eight reporters per delegate.
Demonstrators would hold court outside the convention hall, with the TV cameras giving us daily, live, on-the-spot coverage of pressure groups and radicals demanding constitutional changes. We would have round-the-clock coverage by CNN and C-Span. Demonstrations would be staged by the pro-abortionists and the pro-lifers, the gay activists and their opponents, the radical feminists (Bella Abzug would take time off from her United Nations projects), the environmentalists, the gun control activists, the animal rights extremists, the D.C. Statehood agitators, those who want to relax immigration and those who would restrict it, the homeless, and the unions -- all demanding that their perceived "rights" be recognized in the Constitution. A Constitutional Convention would be confrontational, divisive, and ruled by 20-second television sound-bites.
Nobody can predict what the rules or the agenda of a new Constitutional Convention would be. There is nothing in the Constitution or in any law to guide us. The Con Con advocates try to reassure us with talk of a Procedures bill introduced many years ago by the late Senator Sam Ervin -- but Congress has consistently refused to pass any Procedures bill. The shenanigans involved in changing the text of the Procedures bill each time it has been reintroduced prove how political the procedures process is bound to be.
The Con Con advocates try to tell us that there are "safeguards" that will prevent bad things from happening at a Constitutional Convention. In fact, there are no safeguards at all, and the alleged "safeguards" are just political campaign promises. None of them is backed up by any statute or court decision. The Constitution tells us nothing except that, if 34 states pass a resolution requesting a Constitutional Convention, Congress "shall" call a Con Con for the purpose of considering "amendments" (in the plural).
Con Con advocates try to assure us that a Con Con would be a dignified assembly of thoughtful people who will responsibly consider and vote out just one important amendment. They are dreaming (or dissembling). The most prestigious constitutional authorities in the country, both conservative and liberal, say it is impossible for Congress or anyone else to limit the agenda.
The highest authority who has ever spoken out on this subject is the late Chief Justice Warren Burger, who said: "There is no effective way to limit or muzzle the actions of a Constitutional Convention. . . . After a Convention is convened, it will be too late to stop the Convention if we don't like its agenda." Other distinguished professors of constitutional law, both Republicans and Democrats, who say it is impossible to restrict the agenda of a Constitutional Convention to consideration of one issue, include Charles Alan Wright of the University of Texas, Gerald Gunther of Stanford, Charles Black of Yale, and Walter Dellinger of Duke. They all say that, even if Congress orders a Constitutional Convention to consider only one issue, the Convention delegates can ignore that instruction and set their own agenda.
Nearly all those who advocate a Constitutional Convention are supporting at least two amendments on very different issues, and some have a large agenda calling for major changes in our Constitution. Politically powerful pressure groups from both the left and the right continue to promote a Constitutional Convention as the route to achieve significant constitutional changes.
In addition to Term Limits, these goals include a Balanced Budget Amendment, prayer in public schools, and a prohibition against unfunded mandates. Eliminating our Separation of Powers (which they call "gridlock") has been advocated for years by the Committee on the Constitutional System (which boasts such prominent directors as Democratic presidential adviser Lloyd Cutler and former World Bank President Robert S. McNamara). Ross Perot says he wants three amendments. John Sununu is on record as wanting four amendments.
It simply is not credible that these politically active groups would pass up the chance to pressure a Constitutional Convention to vote out their special amendment. It's not credible, for example, that the powerful forces working to take away our right to own guns would pass up such a golden opportunity to get rid of the Second Amendment.
Since 29 states are on record as calling for a Constitutional Convention to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment, and some 18 states are on record as calling for a Con Con to pass a Human Life Amendment, it is impossible to believe that these issues could be kept off the table of a Con Con called to pass Term Limits.
Con Con More Dangerous Than Congress
The advocates of a Constitutional Convention assert that a Convention couldn't do any more mischief than our mischievous Congress. This is false for many reasons.
- Delegates to a Constitutional Convention do not have to swear to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution, and would therefore be free (like the 1787 Convention Delegates) to throw out our existing Constitution and start from scratch with a completely new document. Congress, on the other hand, is bound by Article VI of our present Constitution, which requires every Member to take an oath to support our present Constitution.
- Congress must muster a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate in order to propose any constitutional change. No one knows whether or not a Con Con would have a two-thirds (or simple majority) rule, and we can't know until the Convention is actually convened and adopts its own rules of procedure.
- Any action by Congress must pass two Houses. Since a Constitutional Convention would not have two Houses, the big-population states would control the Convention and the small-population states would be irrelevant.
- Delegates to a Constitutional Convention will never run for re-election, so they would be as free from accountability to the voters as the life-tenured federal judges.
- We know for sure that any constitutional change voted out by Congress will not become part of the U.S. Constitution unless it is ratified by 38 of the 50 states. No one knows for sure whether or not this requirement would be true for actions taken by a Constitutional Convention. If a Con Con can change other portions of the Constitution, what is to prevent it from reducing the Article V requirement that ratification requires three-fourths of the states (just as the 1787 Convention reduced the ratification requirement from 100% to 75%)?
History of Con Con Resolutions
University of Minnesota professor Michael S. Paulsen reported in the Wall Street Journal (5-3-95) that, since 1787, states have submitted 399 applications for a Constitutional Convention covering many different issues. He concluded that 45 states have valid applications now pending and Congress is already obligated to call a Constitutional Convention to consider many different amendments.
Other lawyers stoutly assert that we should only count state applications that refer to a single issue. The fact is that nothing in our Constitution, federal statutes or court decisions gives any answers to such fundamental questions about a Constitutional Convention.
In the 1970s, a couple of conservative groups started campaigning for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. When this failed to win the support of enough Americans, its sponsors went around to state legislatures and introduced resolutions calling for a Constitutional Convention to consider a Balanced Budget Amendment. Some states passed those resolutions without any hearings or debate, some without realizing that a Con Con was in the fine print. Usually, the arguments and advertising in behalf of these resolutions featured the need for a Balanced Budget Amendment and concealed the fact that the fine print called for a Constitutional Convention.
In 1983, Missouri became the 32nd state to pass a resolution calling for a Balanced Budget Amendment Con Con, and Eagle Forum took up the battle to defeat this destructive plan. Not one other state passed a Con Con resolution after that, although there were heated battles about Con Con in many states, especially Michigan, Kentucky, Montana, and New Jersey. Three state legislatures rescinded their earlier Con Con resolutions: Alabama, Florida and Louisiana. Nearly all the 29 states that are on record as having passed a Con Con resolution for a Balanced Budget Amendment did so back during the Carter Administration. No resolution requesting a Constitutional Convention for a Balanced Budget Amendment has passed any State Legislature since 1983 -- thirteen years ago! There is no public support across America for a Constitutional Convention.
In 1995, resolutions calling for a "Conference of the States" (COS) suddenly appeared in nearly 50 state legislatures. COS presented itself as a plan to restore balance in the federal system, but it soon was perceived as a backdoor attempt to take us into a Constitutional Convention. COS's agenda called for "fundamental" and "structural" changes in our form of government and for changing Article V to make it easier to amend the Constitution.
The Conference of the States plan had the support of so many prestigious public officials and organizations that COS resolutions passed quickly in 14 state legislatures. After Eagle Forum exposed the COS agenda, based on its own publications, 29 states defeated the COS resolution or adjourned without passing it, and COS resolutions died on the vine in the remaining states.
Now, the drive for a Constitutional Convention has been taken up by U.S. Term Limits, and the methods are just as dishonest as those used in the previous campaigns. They conceal the fact that the fine print of the initiative petitions and the state legislative resolutions call for a Constitutional Convention, while wrapping the project in the immensely popular rhetoric for Term Limits. It's a classic bait-and-switch act.
U.S. Term Limits says it is modeling its campaign on the history of the 17th Amendment, which mandated the direct election of Senators. After nearly two-thirds of the states had passed resolutions calling for a Constitutional Convention on this issue, Congress gave in to public demand and passed the 17th Amendment in 1913.
It's hard to take seriously U.S. Term Limits' argument that a similar strategy will force Congress to vote out a constitutional amendment requiring Term Limits in the face of the fact that this strategy completely failed when it was tried more recently in the 1960s. Then, 33 states passed resolutions requesting a Constitutional Convention to overturn the Supreme Court's "one man one vote" decision, but Congress simply thumbed its nose at the states, and nothing happened.
If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It
The miracle of our great United States Constitution is that it has lasted for two centuries, accommodating our great geographic and economic expansion, while preserving individual liberties. How could we possibly allow our great Constitution to be jeopardized by calling a national Convention at a time when so many special-interest groups want to rewrite it in different ways!
Our nation has many problems in the 1990s, but we don't need the problems that would be caused by special-interest groups making a plaything of our Constitution. State Legislatures can start a constitutional conflagration by precipitating a Constitutional Convention, but State Legislatures cannot put out the fire once ignited, cannot control its spread, and cannot control the winds that will fan this fire in ways we cannot now foresee.
We should reject all proposals for a Constitutional Convention, no matter how worthy the issue. Our great United States Constitution (including the Tenth Amendment) gives us all the tools we need to survive in freedom and make the legislative and policy changes the American people want.
James Madison, the father of our Constitution, said it best when he wrote: "Having witnessed the difficulties and dangers experienced by the first Convention, which assembled under every propitious circumstance, I should tremble for the result of a second." Madison spoke in an era when a second convention could have been chaired again by George Washington.
We don't see any James Madisons, George Washingtons, Ben Franklins or Alexander Hamiltons around today who could do as good a job as our Founding Fathers did in 1787, but there are a lot of people who think they can improve on our Founding Fathers. Whether they come from the left or the right, we should not risk making our Constitution the political plaything of those who think they are today's Madisons, Washingtons, Franklins or Hamiltons.
Many national organizations from all across the political spectrum oppose calling a Constitution Convention. These include the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Eagle Forum, Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the American Revolution, Gun Owners of America, National Rifle Association, The Conservative Caucus, John Birch Society, General Conference of Seventh Day Adventists, AFL-CIO, National Education Association, American Association of University Women, American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way, and American Association of Retired Persons. Our great Constitution is for all Americans, regardless of political opinion.
"Resolved, By The American Legion in National Convention assembled in San Antonio, Texas, August 25, 26, 27, 1987, That it states its opposition to efforts to convene a Constitutional Convention for any purpose and specifically opposes the rewriting of the United States Constitution."
"Resolved, by the 85th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, that we oppose any attempt to call a Constitutional Convention, as this would give our enemies from within and without the opportunity to destroy our Nation." Resolution No. 449, Adopted by the 85th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States held in Chicago, Illinois, August 17-24, 1984.
"Resolved, That members of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution oppose efforts to rewrite the Constitution by Constitutional Convention." Adopted by the DAR Continental Congress, April 1986, Washington, D.C.
"Resolved, By the eligible voting members at the 1992 Annual Meeting of the National Rifle Association of America held in Salt Lake City on the 25th of April, 1992, that we oppose any attempt to call for a Constitutional Convention for any purpose whatsoever because it cannot be limited to a single issue and that our right to keep and bear arms can be seriously eroded."
|The following is an address given be Phyllis Schlafly on August 9, 1987 at the American Bar Association's Bicentennial Showcase Program sponsored by the Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities during the ABA Annual Convention in San Francisco.
Russian Roulette is a deadly game of risk. You put one bullet in a revolver, leaving five empty clambers, spin it, aim it at your head, and fire. The odds are very favorable; you have five chances out of six of living to laugh at the fun of it all, and only one chance out of six of killing yourself.
Despite the good odds, society labels it murder if you play such a risky game with life. Many of us feel it would be just as irrational to play such a risky game with the United States Constitution — our most precious document and the fountainhead of our unparalleled American freedom, independence, and prosperity. Our Constitution is a statement of principle and practicality that has lasted 200 years, longer than any constitution in the history of the world.
Article V of the U.S. Constitution requires us to call a new Constitutional Convention if two-thirds (or 34) of the states request it. The language of Article V is mandatory: it says that Congress "shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments" whenever requests are received from two-thirds of the states. Note that the word "amendments" is used in the plural. These are the only instructions we have about a Constitutional Convention. There are no other rules or guidelines.
We don't know how a Constitutional Convention would be apportioned, or how the delegates would be elected. We don't know what rules the Convention would operate under. We don't know whether amendments could be proposed by a simple majority or would require a super majority. We don't know if the agenda could be limited or would be wide open to any proposal.
We can anticipate that the Convention would be the target of legal challenges at every step of the way. We don't know if the Supreme Court would undertake to resolve these controversies, and if so how, or if the Supreme Court would pass the buck and label them "political questions."
The whole process would be a prescription for constitutional chaos, controversy and confrontation, along a road our nation has never traveled before, without any map or guidelines, and with no clear vision of our destination.
The Convention that produced our 200-year-old Constitution had the advantage of being able to deliberate for four months in secret, without prying reporters, without media coverage, and without even any leaks. Just about the only thing that we can predict with certainty about a new Constitutional Convention is that it would not be secret. Meddling media coverage would exacerbate every controversy.
How will the delegates be elected, or selected? The most frequently talked about method is to allow the same number of representatives as those who serve in Congress, with one delegate from each Congressional district plus two delegates at large from each state. That method has several major defects. Since there would be no Senate (no one his suggested that a Constitutional Convention be a bicameral body), the small-population states would become politically irrelevant. The ten big Western states, excluding California, would amount to only nine percent of the Convention.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal recommended that delegates be appointed by the nation's 50 Governors. That's just one example of the undemocratic procedures currently concocted by those who want to plunge us into a Constitutional Convention.
Some assure us that Congress will pass a Constitutional Convention Implementation Act to resolve these problems. Such a bill has been floundering in Congress for the last 20 years, but has never passed because there is no Congressional consensus on essential decisions pertaining to the election and functioning of a Constitutional Convention.
The 1921 case of Dillon v. Gloss tells us that changes in the U.S. Constitution should be the result of a contemporaneous consensus." This is why most constitutional amendments proposed in the 20th century have had a time limit of seven years.
The current series of resolutions calling for a Constitutional Convention are not within any time frame that could be called "contemporaneous." In the last seven years, only two states have passed a call for a Constitutional Convention for a Balanced Budget Amendment: Alaska in 1982 and Missouri in 1983.
On the other hand, in the last seven years at least five states have voted down a call for a Constitutional Convention after spirited debate: Michigan, Connecticut, Maine, Kentucky, and Montana. Several other states have defeated a Convention resolution by not letting it come to a vote. It is obvious that there is no general public support for a Constitutional Convention.
In the absence of any public demand, the advocates of a Constitutional Convention for a Balanced Budget Amendment have resorted to a remarkable piece of legislative chicanery in order to compel the calling of a Constitutional Convention anyway. The proposed Constitutional Convention Implementation Bill in the current Congress prescribes a time limit of seven years during which state resolutions calling for a particular Constitutional Convention can be validly passed, BUT would give the current series of Constitutional Convention resolutions the special privilege of 16 years.
This would "grandfather in" all the old, stale calls for a Constitutional Convention for a Balanced Budget Amendment going back to the first ones in 1975, and would prop them up on an artificial life-support system until 1991, while an attempt is made to round up two additional states.
This is the same type of playing games with the Constitution that we suffered with the time extension of three years and three months voted by Congress for the Equal Rights Amendment. It is a subterfuge to avoid complying with the need for a "contemporaneous consensus." It is an attempt to lock in state resolutions which were passed ten years earlier, while exerting enormous political and financial pressure on two or three targeted states in order to achieve the necessary number of resolutions.
The same people who are trying to initiate a Constitutional Convention by tricking us about the rules for calling one, are now trying to assure us that a Constitutional Convention would be harmless because it would be limited to consideration of a Balanced Budget Amendment. Their assurances do not inspire confidence.
Retired Chief Justice Warren Burger said this year in Detroit, "There is no way to put a muzzle on a Constitutional Convention." The Stanford Law School Professor whose case-book is used in the majority of U.S. law schools, Gerald Gunther, said that, even if Congress tried to limit the Convention to one subject, the delegates could decide for themselves that the Convention "is entitled to set its own agenda."
The advocates of a Constitutional Convention try to deny that a runaway Convention would happen — but they can not deny the risk of a runaway Convention. I don't believe our great constitution should be exposed to that risk.
The political problems involved in trying to limit a Constitutional Convention to a single issue are even greater than the legal problems. The advocates of a Constitutional Convention try to tell us that delegates would run on a single-issue platform, would have a moral obligation to stay on that topic, and that voters would demand that the Constitutional Convention be limited to the subject for which it was called.
Those who pursue that line of argument must have no experience with grassroots politics and how people are elected to office. In the real world, special-interest groups would organize to elect their friends. Pro-life groups would vote for candidates on the basis of their single-issue, abortion; no one could deny them that right. The National Education Association would work for candidates who support the NEA'S big spending agenda.
Then, when the Constitutional Convention is convened, the factions would bargain with each other: "You support our amendments and our rules, and we'll support your's." Practically anything can be made a fiscal issue; and many of the Balanced Budget Amendment advocates admit that they really prefer the Line Item Veto Amendment anyway. Of course, a Human Life Amendment would become an immediate bone of contention! Don't forget that 19 states have passed resolutions calling for a Constitutional Convention to consider a pro-life amendment.
Groups on both the right and the left are proposing major constitutional changes. Some want to prohibit abortions or federal deficits. Some want to change our structure of government by eliminating our Separation of Powers and turning us into a European parliamentary style of government. It is incredible that these groups would pass up the marvelous, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use the Constitutional Convention to achieve their long-sought goals. Groups that are advocating structural change in our Constitution have ridiculed the literature of the Balanced Budget Amendment groups for asserting that a Constitutional Convention can be limited to only one subject.
Some of these groups are openly saying that "the best way to honor the framers of the Constitution during this Bicentennial era is to follow their example." And what is that example? The Constitutional Convention of 1787 was called for the exclusive purpose of amending the Articles of Confederation. Once the Founding Fathers assembled in Philadelphia, they threw out the Articles of Confederation and wrote an entirely new Constitution, and even changed the ratification procedure so they could it adopted more easily. The 1787 Convention is the only precedent we have for a national Constitutional Convention.
If a constitutional Convention can change our structure of government as defined in Articles I, II, and III, it can also change the Article V requirement that three-fourths of the states are needed to ratify any changes. The Convention of 1787 reduced the number of states required to ratify a change from 100% of the states to 75%, and a Convention in the 1980s could "follow their example" and reduce it further, to 66%, or 60%, or even 51%.
Any proposal for constitutional change should be addressed on its own merits, NOT made hostage to contention and compromise at a Convention whose delegates bear no accountability to the people because they never have to run for re-election. Convention delegates are even exempt from the Article VI provision which requires Senators, Congressmen, State Legislators, and all executive and judicial officers of the United States and all 50 states to take an oath to support and defend our present Constitution.
The Bait-and-Switch Act
Most or sometimes all of the debate and political pressure involved support for a Balanced Budget Amendment exclusively, while a Constitutional Convention was given the silent treatment. In some states, large newspaper advertisements and telephone banks soliciting a "yes" vote referred only to the Balanced Budget Amendment and never mentioned the call for a Constitutional Convention.
About half the states on record as calling for a Constitutional Convention didn't even hold any hearings. But, as any lawyer will tell you, you are obligated by the fine print in a contract even if you fail to read it.
It is curious that a Constitutional Convention is proposed as the route to a Balanced Budget Amendment. It's like your telling me that, when you leave San Francisco, you are headed for Los Angeles, but somehow your plane ticket reads through New York. This would convince me that you are in no hurry to get to Los Angeles, but that you expect to enjoy fun and games along the way.
The last time the proposed Balanced Budget Amendment came up in the U.S. Senate, it failed by only one vote. The last time it came up in the House, it failed by only 46 votes. A switch of a handful of votes would pass the Balanced Budget Amendment and send it out to the states where it would probably enjoy speedy ratification.
So why doesn't this happen? Because the political and financial energies to accomplish this goal have been diverted into a strategy of getting state legislators (instead of Congressmen) to vote rah, rah, rah for a federal balanced budget — a vote that appears to put them on the side of the angels at no cost. The Balanced Budget Amendment activists raise money from those who support that cause, but spend it to run around the country and win easy votes in state legislatures.
There is no evidence that a Constitutional Convention would vote out a Balanced Budget Amendment anyway. A more likely scenario is that it would be bogged down in dispute and division. The results could very well be the opposite of what the Balanced Budget Amendment advocates hope.
Former secretary of Defense Melvin Laird pointed this out when he wrote in the Washington Post, "The mere act of convening a Constitutional Convention would send tremors through all those economies that depend on the dollar; would undermine our neighbors' confidence in our constitutional integrity; and would weaken not only our economic stability but the stability of the free world."
Some of the advocates assert that Congress will be forced to vote out a Balanced Budget Amendment if 33 states pass Constitutional Convention resolutions. They cite the way Congress voted out the 17th Amendment in 1913, ordering the direct election of Senators, after all except one of the required number of states had passed Constitutional Convention resolutions. It's hard to take this argument seriously when they deliberately ignore the more recent example that, in the 1960s, 33 states passed resolutions for a Constitutional Convention to overturn the Supreme Court's "one man one vote" decision, but Congress simply thumbed its nose at the states, and nothing happened.
More important, it is difficult to understand those who, out of one side of their mouths, urge state legislators to vote FOR a Constitutional Convention while, out of the other side of their mouths, they assure us that a Convention will never happen, virtually conceding that this route is a recipe for confusion.
Such double talk about the Constitution is unworthy of the subject. Chief Justice John Marshall reminded us that we must "never forget that it is a Constitution we are expounding." Likewise, we should never forget that it is a Constitution we are talking about amending. It deserves more respect than to be treated, to use a current metaphor, like "a potted plant."
More and more, the advocates of a Constitutional Convention for a Balanced Budget Amendment are coming out of the closet and admitting that they really want a Constitutional Convention to take place. Many of these people are my friends, and I respect their sincerity. However, I don't trust them to rewrite the Constitution any more than my political opponents.
James Madison, the father of our Constitution, said it best when he wrote: "Having witnessed the difficulties and dangers experienced by the first Convention, which assembled under every propitious circumstance, I should tremble for the result of a second." Madison said that in an era when a second convention could have been chaired again by George Washington.
The miracle of our great U.S. Constitution is that it has lasted 200 years, accommodating our great geographic and economic expansion, while preserving individual liberties. I don't see any James Madisons, George Washingtons, Ben Franklins, or Alexander Hamiltons around today who could do as good a job as was done in 1787, and I'm not willing to risk making our Constitution the political plaything of those who think they are today's Madisons, Washingtons, Franklins, or Hamiltons.
32 States Passed Con Con/BBA Resolutions
|1975||Alabama (9/10)||1979||Florida (2/22)|
|Louisiana (7/23)||Idaho (2/28)|
|Mississippi (2/25)||Indiana (5/1)|
|1976||Delaware (2/25)||Louisiana (7/18)|
|Georgia (2/6)||Maryland (6/5)|
|South Carolina (2/23)||Nebraska (3/7)|
|Virginia (3/25)||Nevada (2/28)|
|New Hampshire (5/1)|
|1977||Maryland (1/28)||New Mexico (2/26)|
|Tennessee (6/10)||North Carolina (2/6)|
|North Dakota (5/3)|
|1978||Colorado (4/5)||Oregon (3/15)|
|Kansas (5/17)||Pennsylvania (3/12)|
|Louisiana (7/14)||South Dakota (2/27)|
|Oklahoma (5/3)||Texas (1/15)|
|South Carolina (5/22)||Utah (3/7)|
|1979||Alabama (3/13)||1982||Alaska (2/3)|
|Arkansas (3/5)||1983||Missouri (7/11)|
Only 2 of the 32 States Passed Con Con/BBA Resolutions within the Last 7 Years.
From 1975 to 1987, a total of 32 states passed Con Con/BBA resolutions. The list appears to be more than 32 because Alabama, Maryland, South Carolina and Tennessee passed the resolution twice and Louisiana three times.
18 States Never Passed Con Con/BBA Resolutions
will be limited to a Balanced Budget Amendment
when the whole procedure of calling one
is based on tricking us about the rules?
The Constitutional Convention Implementation Bill, originally written by Senator Sam J. Ervin in the 1960s (which has floundered in Congress since then but has never passed), called for a time limit of 7 years both for the ratification of constitutional amendments in the usual way and for state resolutions calling for a Constitutional Convention. This is because the Constitution may be changed only if there is a "contemporaneous consensus" in support of the change.
But the 1987-88 version of the Implementation Bill in the U.S. Senate provides that the current series of state resolutions requesting a Constitutional Convention would have the special privilege of a time limit of 16 years (described as 14 years plus 2 years). This one-time exception to the general rule would "grandfather in" all the old state calls for a Constitutional Convention. Here is the text from this Implementation Bill now pending in the Senate:
"Effective Period of Application
Sec. 5. (a) An application submitted to the Congress by a State, unless sooner withdrawn by the State legislature, shall remain effective for the lesser of the period specified in such application by the State legislature or for a period of seven calendar years after the date it is received by the Congress, Provided however, That those applications which have not been before the Congress for more than fourteen years on the effective date of this Act shall be effective for a period of not less than two years."
This is the same type of chicanery about procedure — playing games with the Constitution — that we endured with the Time Extension of 3 years and 3 months voted by Congress for the Equal Rights Amendment. That Extension enabled the ERA advocates to exert enormous political and financial pressure on four states in 1982 while "counting" the 23 states that passed ERA in 1972 (10 years earlier), and pretending that 5 rescissions did not exist.
Gore Vidal's Prediction
Gore Vidal, a leftwing writer of considerable acclaim, let the cat out of the bag in a recent speech at Oregon State University which was published in the San Francisco Chronicle. He explained the liberals' plan to take over a Constitutional Convention.
"It is a nice irony," Vidal said, "that the far right — disguised as conservatives — can take credit for so fundamental and radical an upheaval. In order to balance the budget by law, to put prayer to God and Mammon in the schools, to forbid abortion, pornography and drugs, they have set in motion the great engine that will overthrow the very Constitution that they insist be so strictly constructed."
Admitting that he favors a new Constitutional Convention, Vidal added, "I can view with a certain serenity the restructuring of our political institutions. After all, such a convention could — and probably would — supersede Congress."
Phyllis Schlafly Report September 1987
Combating Chicanery About the Constitution
The mind-boggling amounts of the bailouts Congress has passed and is still debating, plus shocking Wall Street frauds, seem to have plunged some lawmakers into a silly season. Ohio state legislators this month held a surprise hearing on a resolution calling for a national constitutional convention, and then canceled a vote after dozens of citizens showed up to speak against it.
We already have a U.S. Constitution that has withstood the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune for more than two centuries, and we don't need a new constitution. There is nothing wrong with the one we have except that politicians are not obeying it and judges are indulging in too much activism.
The idea that adding new words to the Constitution to require balancing the federal budget, or to give President Barack Obama a line-item veto so he can veto the extravagant spending he has already endorsed, is delusionary. The only thing more outlandish is the fanciful notion that a 2009 Con Con could adopt such requirements while avoiding other mistakes.
The most influential players in any new constitutional convention (colloquially known as a Con Con) would be Big Media giving us round-the-clock television coverage. The 2008 presidential campaign proved that the media consider themselves actors in the political process, not merely reporters.
Outside of a Con Con hall, demonstrators would hold court demanding constitutional changes. These would be staged by gay activists and their opponents, pro-abortionists and pro-lifers, radical feminists, the environmentalists, gun control advocates, animal rights extremists, D.C. Statehood agitators, those who want to relax immigration and those who would restrict it, mortgage defaulters, and the unions -- all demanding consideration of amendments to recognize their claimed rights.
Article V requires Congress to call a new Constitutional Convention to consider "amendments" (note the plural) if two-thirds (34) of the states pass resolutions calling for it. There are no other rules in the Constitution or in federal law to list or limit a Con Con's purpose, procedure, agenda, or election of delegates.
The whole process would be a prescription for political chaos, controversy, confrontation, litigation, and judicial activism. Just about the only thing we can predict with certainty is that it could not be secret from the media and the public, as was the original 1787 Constitutional Convention.
Many prestigious constitutional authorities say it is impossible for Congress or anyone else to restrict what a Con Con does. The late Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote, "There is no effective way to limit or muzzle the actions of a Constitutional Convention. After a Convention is convened, it will be too late to stop the Convention if we don't like its agenda."
Powerful and politically active pressure groups, from both the right and the left, are working for other significant constitutional changes including changes in the First Amendment's treatment of religion, getting rid of the Electoral College, term limitation, and modifying our Separation of Powers (which they call "gridlock") in order to move us toward a parliamentary form of government.
It is not credible that politically active groups would pass up the chance to force a Con Con to vote for their special interest. It's not believable that the powerful forces working to take away our right to own guns would overlook a golden opportunity to rescind the Second Amendment.
The confusion, uncertainty, and court cases involved in a Con Con would make us look foolish in the eyes of the world. A constitutional convention could not be the formula to restore respect for our government when a Con Con would start off making the world wonder if our American system of government will survive.
There is NO public support across America for a constitutional convention. A flurry of pro-Con Con activity during the Jimmy Carter Administration died out, no state has passed a Con Con resolution in the last 25 years, during the 1980s five states voted down a call for a Con Con, and three states repealed their earlier Con Con resolutions.
The miracle of our great United States Constitution is that it has lasted for 220 years, accommodating our great geographic and economic expansion and political problems, while preserving individual liberties. We are now witnessing, following November's election, how Americans are peacefully accepting a transfer of power from one party to the other.
I don't see any James Madisons, George Washingtons, Ben Franklins or Alexander Hamiltons around today who could do as good a job as was done in 1787, and I'm very concerned about the politicians who think they can improve on our Founding Fathers. Ohio state legislators will make themselves a national laughing stock if they persist in the foolish pursuit of a new constitutional convention.
Phyllis Schlafly Report May 1996
Is a Con Con Hidden in Term Limits?