A battle over efforts to call a constitutional convention is currently taking place throughout the country. Occurring below the national radar screen, the fight has enormous consequences.
Proponents are attempting to pass resolutions in 34 state legislatures that call for a constitutional convention to adopt a federal balanced budget constitutional amendment.
Most experts agree, however, that once a constitutional convention is called, the actions of the convention could not be limited in advance to any particular issue and the delegates would be able to consider any other constitutional amendments they wish to adopt. (Amendments adopted by the convention would then go to the states for ratification.)
As the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger explained, “[T]here is no way to effectively limit or muzzle the actions of a constitutional convention. The convention could make its own rules and set its own agenda.”
This means that calling a constitutional convention would open the door to a runaway convention in which all of the constitutional rights provided to the American people would be up for grabs. This includes constitutional protections for civil rights and liberties, freedom of speech and religion, and voting and privacy rights, among others.
The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made clear his concerns about having a constitutional convention by stating, “I certainly would not want a constitutional convention. Whoa! Who knows what would come out of it?”
Proponents of a constitutional convention are led by ALEC, an organization that includes conservative state legislators and major corporations. Local tea party groups are also active in the states.
At the start of 2017, proponents claimed to have resolutions passed in 28 of the 34 states needed to call a constitutional convention. More than half of these states passed their resolutions more than three decades ago.
Wyoming and Arizona have added their names to the list this year, and Wisconsin is also considered likely to pass a call for a constitutional convention later this year.
But there is also a national coalition working to prevent a constitutional convention. Groups providing leadership for the coalition effort include the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Common Cause, AFSCME and Democracy 21.
The coalition has been joined in some states by local conservative organizations, including gun rights groups and the Eagle Forum, who also do not want to see the Constitution opened up for revision.
The coalition this year has successfully lobbied state legislatures in New Mexico and Maryland to rescind previously passed resolutions that called for a convention. And in Nevada, the State Senate has passed a rescission resolution and the House is expected to act on it soon.
If Wisconsin and Nevada go as currently expected, we will be back to the 28 states with which we started 2017.
Proponents of the convention have targeted six additional states in which the legislatures are fully controlled by Republicans: Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, South Carolina and Virginia, and two states with split legislatures: Maine and Washington.
If they succeed in the six Republican-controlled state legislatures, proponents will then claim to have the 34 states needed to call a convention.
However, in Idaho this year, an outside coalition of conservatives and liberals defeated the call for a convention by a 24 to 11 vote in the Senate. And in Kentucky, local citizen opposition generated in part by the group Indivisible blocked the resolution in committee.
This ongoing battle will continue to be fought during the remainder of the 2018 election cycle and beyond, if necessary.
A constitutional convention would wreak havoc in the country. It would open up the nation’s charter and all of the constitutional rights and protections it provides for the American people to fundamental change in a political environment of great divisiveness and polarization.
Our first and only constitutional convention took place in 1787. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton will not be available to serve as delegates if a second constitutional convention is called. It needs to be prevented.