In case you never noticed, Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides two ways that the Constitution can be amended. One is hard and rare in which an amendment is passed by two-third of both houses of Congress and then ratified by three-fourths of the states.
The second one is beyond hard and rare. It has never occurred. The Framers were concerned about trusting Congress entirely with the amendment process, so they created a work-around. If the legislatures of two-thirds of the states were to call for a new constitutional convention, such a convention would called (Congress has nothing to say about it) and would be empowered to propose amendments. The amendments would still have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
OK, it’s a long-shot that this process could work. But certain elements — elements of the organized right, especially the group that considers itself the guardians of liberty — would like to be the restorers of lost liberty, to see if they can make the second process described in Article V work.
Slate has a full story on the closed meeting, recently held at Mount Vernon (George Washington’s estate in Virginia) to get this thing going. (When I say Slate has a story, I should clarify that they weren’t allowed into the meeting, but wrote about it without attending.)
The meeting was attended by many state legislators, many of whom were in D.C. for another meeting organized by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which may mean the group was slightly titled to the right.
Slate wasn’t crystal clear on who was in charge, but there’s something called “Convention of States,” which is a project of Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler, who also has an organization called “Citizens for Self-Government.”
Here’s an excerpt from the Slate piece that will put you more deeply into the picture:
Meckler and his colleagues would make it easy. In the book, CFSG listed a few “examples of amendment topics” that were stalled in Washington but doable at a convention: a balanced budget amendment, term limits for the Supreme Court, “a prohibition of using international treaties and law to govern the domestic law of the United States,” and a “limit” on taxes. The convention would be centered not on any one of these ideas, but “for the purpose of limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.” The chance of success? “Almost certain.”
If that wasn’t enough, the conservative legislators who stopped by this panel heard an endorsement from a real politician. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, another member of the 2010 Tea Party class, suggested Article V as a way of rolling back the government, because Washington never would. “They are giving away candy, and it is tasty stuff,” he said. “We’ve got the drill and the Novocaine to fix the cavity.”
Personally, by the way, I would vote for an amendment limiting Supreme Court justices to a single 18-year term. The others on that list, not so much. I’m a bit skeptical of the “almost certain” chance of success. As I mentioned above, any amendment proposed by such a convention would still be subject to ratification by three-fourths of the states. That means that 13 of the 99 houses of the 50 state legislatures could kill any proposal (assuming the 13 houses were from 13 different states).
By the way, my use in the headline to the “Constitution in exile,” refers to a concept on the right that the “real” Constitution as the Framers intended it has been exiled by, for example, the left’s constant effort to expands the size and scope of the federal government.
Hat tip: Ray Schoch.