By: Brent Parrish
Lately there’s been a rash of articles hawking the idea of convening an Article V Convention that’s causing me some concern (see here and here and here and here and here), to say the least. I do not happen to support the call for a de facto Constitutional Convention. And I hope I can present my case as to why I am so strongly opposed to the idea to in this article.
I attempted to write about the subject of calling a convention a little while back. But, quite frankly, I don’t think I did a very good job of making the case in a persuasive manner. But in this article, I’ve collaborated with some other people who are equally concerned with the call for a so-called “convention of the states” and hope to better explain why a call for a Constitutional Convention is a Pandora’s Box fraught with many dangers that could fundamentally transform the U.S. Constitution—or completely trash it, for that matter.
First, let me just say to my conservative friends that I completely understand why an Article V Convention might sound like the only way to stop an out-of-control federal government at this time. But consider this, if the administration and Congress are not willing to operate under the jurisdiction of the Constitution now, what’s to say they’re are going to honor the Constitution if it is heavily amended? That’s why I feel we’re really already in a constitutional crisis because our leaders are not really following the Constitution in the first place.
Furthermore, we did not arrive at this point of stifling federal overreach overnight. For the past 100 years, in particular, there has been a slow and steady increase in the power and authority of the federal government. Conversely, there has been an erosion in individual liberties and the rights of States to chart their own paths independent of Washington’s dictates. The strategy of gradualism has been employed by the left for decades; and it has given us things like the 16th (income tax) and 17th (popular election of senators) Amendments, and the Federal Reserve—some of the most profound structural changes to our form of government in our history.
These profound structural changes have given us constant deflationary and inflationary cycles, high rates of taxation, a dramatic decrease in the value of the U.S. Dollar, staggering national debt, profligate deficit spending, loss of AAA credit standing, high unemployment, anemic economic growth, and so on. The power has shifted to Washington, D.C., away from the respective States.
I believe a lot of the fuel for calls by those on the right-side of the political spectrum (see here and here and here) for a “convention of the states” is due, in no small part, to the president’s current penchant to rule by executive fiat. But I also believe Mark Levin’s recent book The Liberty Amendments has a lot to do with all the calls for a con-con as well. Levin is calling for a number of constitutional amendments to reign in federal overreach—such as term limits, balanced budget amendment, etc. I have not read Levin’s book. I have watched a few interviews of Levin discussing his book, though. So I’m not prepared to address Levin’s proposals directly. But I do oppose the idea of calling a constitutional convention. That, I can address.
Opponents commonly refer to the call for a Constitutional Convention as a “con-con.”
An opponent for another convention was none other than Fourth U.S. President and Author of the Bill of Rights, James Madison:
“Having witnessed difficulties and dangers experienced by the first convention which assembled under very propitious circumstances, I should tremble for the result of a second….”
—James Madison (November 2, 1788)
So, even during times of great political advantage, Madison shudders to think what would happen should there be a second Constitutional Convention. Madison wrote that the two-year ratification process was a very contentious event. Madison felt quite strongly that there should never be a convention during a time of great division. That makes a lot of sense to me. But that’s just me.
Originally, the authority given to conduct the Philadelphia Convention was to be strictly limited to revising and amending the Articles of Confederation. But, as history would have it, the Articles of Confederation were thrown out and the U.S. Constitution created in its place. So, in effect, the convention in Philly became a “runaway convention”—meaning, it went far beyond the very strict limitations and restrictions placed on the delegates.
Now, some proponents of a Constitutional Convention might say, “Well, a runaway convention can’t be all bad if it gave us our current Constitution!” But that’s just it. The proponents for a “Convention of the States” are trying to sell their proposal by claiming that a convention will be limited to a clearly defined set of rules.
A con-con is its own boss; it can do whatever it pleases. A con-con is not limited. Once it convenes, it is a sovereign body. Furthermore, Congress has the power to set the rules for a con-con according to Article 1 Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. But once the convention convenes, the rules could be changed completely, as occurred with the original Articles of Confederation during the Philadelphia Convention.
Proponents for a Constitutional Convention insist the three-quarters ratification requirement is a sufficient safeguard to protect the Constitution. But during the Philadelphia Convention the requirement was one-hundred-percent ratification by all 13 States. But the delegates at the convention changed the rules to require only nine States to ratify.
There have been many calls for a Constitutional Convention over the years for both well-intentioned and nefarious purposes. Whether proponents call it a Convention of the States, Conference of the States, Amending Convention, Article V Convention, it really is a call for a Constitutional Convention to refine, amend, or completely change our Constitution. This is very dangerous territory indeed.
For those of you who lean to the right, it may surprise you to discover that there are many on the left who are behind the call for an Article V Convention—folks like George Soros, Wolf PAC, The Young Turks, Alliance for Democracy, Code Pink, Independent Progressive Network, Progressive Democrats of America, Code Pink, Sierra Club, Vermont for Single Payer, Green Party, Occupy Movement, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), SEIU, etc.
If you were to ask most people if they have ever attended a political convention, chances are they have not. There are many shenanigans and political maneuvering going on behind the scenes—backroom deals, unvetted and unknown delegates, co-opted alliances, power-players exerting influence … gaveling their way through every motion … the list goes on. I shudder, like Madison, to think what a convention would produce now—during a time of great political division. It could potentially turn the Constitution on its head and effectively throw out the Bill of Rights. Do we really want to risk such a dire outcome?
Below you’ll find a PowerPoint presentation by Lt. Robert Powell from the Pacific Freedom Foundation that expands on the points I’ve made here, and provides a stark warning to those who believe the significant dangers inherent in an Article V Convention are truly worth the risk.
The final result of a convention could be the very destruction of the document that it was meant to fix. I don’t believe we need to revise, fix, amend or remake the Constitution; I believe we need to restore it.