Conservative politicians and groups are largely behind a renewed push to have the states call a constitutional convention, but a nonpartisan group dedicated to advancing the idea says progressives should be taking up the cause as well.
Byron DeLear, a co-founder of Friends of the Article V Convention, told The Huffington Post that the idea of a state-called convention, which is allowed for in Article V of the Constitution, is a "transpartisan idea" that only recently has become a tool for conservatives to push for change.
“Most of the energy on Article V is on the right side of the aisle -- people who want to shut down the Obama administration and think he is a tyrant," DeLear said. "When Bush was in office, the left was energized and the peace movement was energized."
Under the terms of Article V, a constitutional convention can be called if two-thirds of state legislatures file petitions with Congress. Most of such petitions offered in recent years have called for a balanced budget amendment, while two states currently pushing petitions -- Indiana and Kansas -- are seeking to reduce the powers of the federal government.
But DeLear, a Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged former Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) for Congress in Missouri, said liberals could use an Article V convention to push for several issues important to them: overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, ending the definition of corporate personhood, addressing the push in some states for greater voting restrictions, and advocating a balanced budget amendment. While a balanced budget amendment is primarily backed by conservative groups, DeLear said liberals could use such a rule to reduce debt spending and refocus federal funds on services.
Still, DeLear said his group does not favor the current trend of states calling for an Article V convention to petition on discrete issues. Forty-nine states have made specific Article V applications to Congress, but no one topic has received the backing of the two-thirds of states required to trigger a convention.
"In the case of an Article V convention it would be difficult to get a call for a convention if it didn’t have a general mandate," DeLear explained. "It can’t be constrained or limited to one particular initiative.”
Opponents of an Article V convention -- as well as those seeking to limit its address to one topic -- have suggested such a gathering could become a "runaway convention" that could make significant changes to the Constitution. DeLear argued against that concern, noting that any amendments passed by a convention would need to be ratified by three-quarters of the states.
That same argument is being advanced by Kansas state Rep. Brett Hildabrand (R-Shawnee), who is pushing his state's latest Article V application. The Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, which also is pushing for a constitutional convention, has suggested blocking the possibility of overzealous revision by passing state laws that would prevent delegates from deviating from such a meeting's original intent.
DeLear said the purpose of a convention is to promote a grassroots discussion of the Constitution and give supporters a chance to end what he sees as the undue influence of corporate interests within the federal government.
“There is an intrinistic civic value in calling the nation’s first Article V convention: to encourage civic engagement," DeLear said. "The founders designed a bottom-up solution to a runaway federal government. The actual supreme law of the land can be changed outside of Washington.”