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Calling a constitutional convention

By Bruce Walker
web posted September 29, 2003

The shenanigans of federal courts have become so outrageous that a permanent change is essential if America is to continue as America. Judicial appointments, blocked by a Democrat minority in the Senate, will not undo the damage. Waiting decades to get a small majority on the Supreme Court to reverse a few decisions will not stop the trend toward indifferent, centralized and undemocratic elitist leftist rule.

What can be done? Nothing illegal or extra-constitutional will work. This new American revolution must be constructed upon firm legal grounds or America will descend into the sort of banana republic system that France became. Since our Constitution was adopted, France has had no less than five different republics (excluding Vichy) with the last version imposed by Charles DeGaulle in the late 1950s.

The resort to extra-legal means will only empower the left, which believes all "law" is simply a means for those on the right side of history to impose their will, to throw the few remaining scraps of the Constitution into the trash bin. We must find a sure, clear and unmistakable way of properly changing the Constitution. The way - the only way actually prescribed in the Constitution - is by amending the Constitution.

There are two methods of proposing an amendment, but only one has ever been used: both houses of Congress propose a particular amendment by a two-thirds vote in each house. There are two methods of adopting an amendment, but only one has ever been used: the legislatures of three-quarters of the states approve the amendment.

The problems with this process are well known. Americans overwhelmingly support term limits, for example, and yet there are enough members of the House of Representatives who come from safe districts or enough members of the Senate who have just won re-election to a six year term to keep any genuine amendments from reforming our system of government.

Washington insiders can work wonders in dilatory and obfuscatory tactics. How many real reforms have been adopted during the last eighty years? None. Direct election of senators and the suffragette amendment were the last two amendments that really affected the national government.

The Constitution, however, retained great powers within states, and particular within that most important part of the entire federal system, the legislatures of the several states. How easy to forget that state legislatures not only held predominate power in state governments, which were the center of most government power until the Civil War, but that state legislatures chose both the members of the United States Senate and the electors who chose the President of the United States.

Recognizing that Congress might grow remote and isolated from the public will, the Constitution provides ways around Congress in amending the Constitution. Two-thirds of the legislatures of the several states may call a constitutional convention. Although this convention sounds as it is intended to address a particular issue, like term limits, nothing prevents the constitutional convention from doing precisely what the men in Philadelphia did - propose major reforms in the structure of government.

Is this possible? Public frustration with judicial usurpation of state elections is growing. Inane promotion of militant atheism as the dogma of American government offends millions. There are half a dozen issues which the people who change if they felt that they had the power. And easily the most responsive part of the federal governmental system are the state legislatures, whose members are elected for two or four year terms and whose districts often encompass an area not much bigger than a medium sized town.

Time for another constitutional convention?
Time for another constitutional convention?

Thirty-four states would need to pass resolutions to call a constitutional convention. Twenty-one states currently have state legislatures in which both houses are controlled by Republicans. Eight states in the Old Confederacy have at least one house controlled by Democrats, but have very conservative constituencies. Nebraska has a non-partisan, unicameral legislature, but it is a strongly Republican and conservative state. Five other states have Republican control of one house and a narrow Democrat majority (or even a tie) in the other house.

A solid majority of states are moderately conservative and conservatives are highly connected with cyber-news systems. State legislators are extraordinarily susceptible to phone calls, letters and visits from constituents (who are their friends, neighbors, customers and parishioners.)

Moreover, once it appeared that conservative states were going to call a constitutional convention - with or without Leftist support - then there would be great pressure to agree to go involve (rather like the decision of Texas Democrats, once it was clear that the redistricting would proceed, to go ahead and show up.)

What then? Conservatives and Republicans have the numbers in any such convention, and the ground rules should be fair but firm. The Constitutional Convention could gain much heartland support by first agreeing to meet far from Washington. Wichita, Salt Lake City, Nashville, Omaha, Indianapolis - each might be good meeting places, or maybe rotation in the meetings would be wise.

Another option would be not to "meet" at any place at all. Governmental bodies do not need to physically get together with modern technology. Why not have the Arkansas delegation stay in Little Rock, the Iowa delegation stay in Des Moines and the Colorado delegation stay in Denver? Why not let these delegates stay with the people who they are intending to represent?

Once two-thirds of the states agreed on a rather innocuous amendment - term limits of twelve years for members of Congress - how should it be approved? Thirty-eight states, or four more than those needed to call a convention, could approve the amendment. Moreover, while past constitutional amendments provide that Congress shall have the power to enforce this change, nothing would prevent this enforcement power from being delegated instead to state legislatures.

The real beauty of a constitutional convention, however, is that it determines its own rules. Here is a thought: why not provide that it meets continuously, with need members of state delegations chosen after state legislative elections? This would make the constitutional convention - controlled exclusively by state legislatures - have the power to trump any federal judicial, legislative or executive action. If the Supreme Court tried to contort sensible amendments into nonsense, an amendment correcting the Supreme Court could be quickly passed.

Indeed, this constitutional convention could do more than that. It could allow amendments to also be referred to the people for a plebiscite. It could provide this or other mechanism for specifically overruling any federal judicial decision. Would it run rampant over our political and civil rights?

What political or civil rights remain unmolested by courts and by bureaucrats? These rights we cherish came from the governments of the states - those thirteen independent nations which combined to make up the United States - and these rights were protected at that level by the proximity of the governed to their governors. Why do Leftists sweat when plebiscites are placed on ballots or when elected officials are recalled or term limits are proposed?

There would be nothing to prevent the perpetual constitutional convention I have proposed from adding additional protections against hasty amendments, if that made people feel better. Why not, for example, add the additional condition that any proposed amendment must also be approved by a majority of the popular vote and by the majority of popular vote in the several states?

We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union established our Constitution for the United States of America. We, the People of the United States, can be trusted - through those officials closest to us, our state legislators - to preserve and protect that Constitution. We can and we should.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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