Do we need a constitutional amendment to limit the size of the federal debt? How about one to grant the president the power of the “line item veto” whereby he can veto specific parts of bills without vetoing the entire bill? Perhaps one to require a balanced federal budget would be in order? How about one to guarantee parents equal rights to any public school for their kid? Or perhaps one to restrict the unabashed growth of the federal bureaucracy?
Sounds great,where do we sign?
Well that sticky little wicket has specific coverage in the US Constitution. Yeah,I know that Justice Ruth B Ginsberg thinks that South Africa’s constitution is a better one,but this one’s been our guide for the last 222 years so that is what we really ought to work with,at least for now. In Article V it states that Congress can propose amendments by two thirds vote in both houses OR that two thirds of the states’ legislatures can call for a constitutional convention to propose amendments. The first method has been used thirty three times in our history and twenty seven of the proposed amendments have been ratified by the states. The second method has never been used. With either method,by Congress or Constitutional Convention,once the proposed amendments are approved by three quarters of the states those amendments become a part of the US Constitution.
Since in these factious times you can’t get two thirds of both houses of Congress to agree to timing for a potty break much less a constitutional amendment what about the other alternative? We could just call for a Constitutional Convention and bypass Congress! Great idea,right? Well that is just the idea behind State Senator Rapert’s SJR-1. It would call for an “amendments convention” to propose an “amendment which shall provide that an increase in the federal debt require approval from a majority of the legislatures of the separate states,. . “ It further indicates the “amendments convention contemplated by this application shall be entirely focused upon and exclusively limited to the subject matter . . “ listed above and that it be in effect until two thirds of the states’ “legislatures have made application for an equivalently limited amendments convention.”
Great. We get a limited “amendments convention” to address only a single issue! Good idea. Perhaps it is in Justice Ginsberg’s preferred South African constitution,but although I searched high and low it does not exist in the US one we got way back in 1789. Instead the US Constitution allows the States’ legislatures to petition the Congress to “call a Convention for proposing Amendments”. No limitations.
Apparently no such thing as a limited “amendments convention” currently exists in the US Constitution. How could this be handled should such a resolution be enacted? Well,since these applications from the legislatures are submitted to “Congress” who “shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments” obviously Congress will also have the authority to deem when two thirds of the states have so applied.
Would Congress have to use the limited scope of AR State Senator Rapert’s bill to determine that application counted? Suppose there were a half dozen states wanting only this amendment to require a debt limit approval by the states,ten that wanted a line item veto,seven that wanted gay marriages,and another fourteen that wanted a carte blanche convention for whatever reasons. Since there is no language in the Constitution for anything other than a “Convention for proposing Amendments” (plural) and all of these requests are for “proposing Amendments” Congress would likely link them together and call for a Convention under the provisions of Article V of the U.S. Constitution,especially if there was a big push during an election year for God only knows what. History has shown that when there is a resolve such things will most certainly get done regardless of any limitations envisioned by state legislators.
Once that convention was called there are absolutely no limitations in the Constitution on the scope of the amendments they may propose. Can you imagine the media circus that would ensue? Obama is already on record as calling the US Constitution as “flawed” and his minions would obviously have a long shopping list of desired changes. He already ignores much of the existing constitution and would love to rewrite it into something that would be more to his liking. Something that would modify some of those pesky little details he finds troubling,something like the first,second,forth,fifth,and tenth amendments would likely be high on his list for modification among others. What about the various demands from a myriad of special interest groups around the country and their tens of thousands of lobbyists? Keep in mind guys,this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to get this done for their favorite interest groups. There would be many times more money spent to influence the convention delegates than in any presidential election ever saw!
Remember the circus that ensued last year in Wisconsin when they simply attempted to implement austerity measures to regain control of their bankrupt state budget? State legislators left the state so as to deny a quorum to conduct legislative business. Mobs from local teachers’ unions converged on the state capital while claiming to be on sick leave,some bringing their students with them. Thousands were bussed in from various unions and other special interests. Activist groups converged on Madison WS from states all around. Millions of dollars in damages were done to the state capital building by the unruly mobs. That was in just one state with only limited goals to oppose what is essentially one measure! Multiply that by fifty and you would have just a small idea of what Washington DC would look like. The media menagerie would have a hay day at the total expense of the taxpayer who would be left to foot the bill through his taxes and ill-advised damages to the Constitution. This would make the “Occupy”bunch look like a girl scout camp.
Whatever emerged from such an exercise could well bare little resemblance to the existing Constitution that we have today and certainly little or no similarity to the limited scope of Senator Rapert’s bill. The guarantees of freedoms of speech,religion,gun and property rights,and many other things we cherish could go out the window almost overnight. Lest we trust in the ratification provision of three quarters of the states to make sense of all this,let us remember that ratifications can take place over a very long time. The 27th amendment was proposed in 1789 and finally deemed ratified in 1992 –203 years later! The 14th amendment was deemed passed even though four states that had once ratified it later rescinded those actions. A fifth state was counted that had specified that their ratification was void unless the amendment was ratified within its original time limit,which it was not.
Still think Congress would necessarily limit itself to the limited scope of Senator Rapert’s resolution in declaring the two thirds requirement for Convention met? If a state can not rescind a ratification of an amendment and can not limit such a ratification to only be valid for the time limit specified in the proposed amendment,then that state obviously can not limit the scope of their request for an “amendments convention”to a single issue of their specification.
If you have been around even half as long as this author,you will have noted that occasionally strange things happen in state legislatures. Sooner or later there is every reason to believe that a bunch of looney-tunes can and will be elected to office at least until the voters get smart enough to finally replace them. One incidence of such legislative lunacy would chalk up another mark for the required ratification and history indicates it would likely remain in the tally forever or until three quarters of the the states experienced similar examples of temporary insanity!
A wise man once said,“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” That applies to politics just as much as it does to any other area of endeavor. If we want a constitutional amendment to require state legislators to concur with debt ceilings or anything else,we need to get off our fat duffs and elect people to Congress that will support those goals,not look for shortcuts in the process. Keep in mind that a dedicated public and Congress can actually work rapidly. After all,the 26th amendment (sets voting age of 18) was passed and ratified in only three months and twenty one days!
The “Madison Amendment”is a proposed constitutional amendment to provide for a single issue application such as Senator Rapert’s resolution. It provides for a limited Convention for proposal of that single specific identical amendment presented by two thirds of the states in their application. Without such a provision in place in the US Constitution there is no control against a runaway Constitutional Convention under Article V no matter how limited it initially purports to be.
I highly respect the work of Senator Rapert and many of the list of co-sponsors to his resolution and feel they are truly well intended. However, I feel they have been misguided in this effort and apparently have received some really bad advice. There is one very good reason that the method of using a Constitutional Convention to enact an amendment has never been done in our Republic’s 222 year lifetime. It is an extremely dangerous undertaking,even more so given today’s political environment.