For the past few years it has been popular for folks of the right persuasion (Republicans and neoconservatives) to call for a constitutional convention (“Con-Con”) in hopes of passing a balanced budget amendment (BBA). A lot of people have jumped on that bandwagon; no doubt your email inbox or Facebook news feeds have shown that.
While all of these efforts might be, for the most part, well-meaning, they are extremely dangerous. Ignore the fact that a BBA in itself is counterintuitive and counterproductive to its intent -- to balance a budget, the government needs only to increase revenues (taxes) to meet expenses (spending). The real danger in a Con-Con is that it would open Pandora’s Box.
Article V of the US Constitution allows for a constitutional convention by which new amendments to our federal government’s primary legal document can be proposed. 34 state legislatures would have to submit applications for a Con-Con. Once said convention has proposed an amendment, it would have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states in order to become part of the Constitution.
Under such circumstances -- in today’s world especially -- it would be a free-for-all and any amendment under the sun could be proposed. That’s why you never hear anyone on the left denouncing the right’s calls for a Con-Con (as they do for anything the right brings up – and vice versa). They know that they, too, would have the ability to propose amendments that meet their desires, whether it’s recognition of abortion as a right, an increase in federal powers, or permanence of social welfare programs.
The Constitution is a document better left alone. Adding to it is dangerous. Sure, some amendments introduced after the Bill of Rights have some merit, like XV which clarified that no one may have their rights abridged on the basis of race or color. But, others have been downright ruinous to the United States, including XVI (which gave the feds the ability to collect income taxes) and XVII (which transferred the election of senators from the states to the people). The outcome of a Con-Con might make XVI and XVII look docile by comparison; the legal basis of our federal government could be forever transformed, even dismantled and replaced with something new.
Were new amendments – whether they were new controls or new powers – to be installed, who’s to say the law would be followed? The Constitution in its past and current states clearly defines the expectations and parameters of the federal government. We have allowed our federal government to grow well beyond those lines, to the point that it has almost become a national government, one that has assumed countless powers that truly belong to the states and the people. It’s long been said that were the federal government to actually operate within its constitutional limitations, it would be one-tenth its current size.
It seems like every day we are getting closer to a Con-Con becoming a reality. In recent years, most states have seen bills and resolutions calling for a constitutional convention introduced among their legislatures on an annual basis. The fact that so many legislators and legislatures across the country have seriously considered them is frightening. As our federal government continues to confound people on both sides of the aisle and calls for a convention become common on social media, in newspapers, and around water coolers, a Con-Con within the next twenty years is certainly foreseeable, especially given its novelty.
If you value what our United States were intended to be and what they should be (by their very definition in the Constitution as she stands now) then you shouldn’t be among those calling for a constitutional convention and you should be educating the people who are. A Con-Con would be a con game, letting the wolves run the hen house.
From the 21 September 2015 Greater Niagara Newspapers