Liberals Are Squawking About The Imminent Danger Of A Constitutional Convention
And they’re right: there’s reason for concern. Or at least reason to keep an eye on the Republicans who are trying to make it happen. Before it’s too late. Again.
The Republican takeover of state legislatures and governorships is often told as a tale of stealthy strategizing by Republican operatives while Democrats got caught napping. But really, Republicans made no secret of their ambitions. And Democrats weren’t napping: they were dead asleep.
Because it didn’t happen slowly, over a period of time, with little fanfare. It actually happened pretty darn quick and out in the open. Right now, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures more than double the number of state legislative chambers are controlled by Republicans than Democrats. And Republicans in more than half of all states have control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office, compared to just 7 states for Democrats.
Based on several sources we checked, as recently as 2010, those numbers were almost exactly the opposite! And that wasn’t that long ago! Here’s a map to illustrate:
Now, Phase Two for many of those same Republicans seems to be engineering a Constitutional Convention. Which would be the first since George Washington had one in 1787.
That means they want to rewrite parts of the Constitution, add amendments, drop amendments, change amendments. How close are they to setting it up? Well, there are two ways of convening a convention:
- Congress can do it with a super-majority. And that means Republicans would need a lot more seats than they have now: about 50 more seats in the House, for starters. So the chance of it happening that way are slim.
- States themselves can petition for a convention, and so far, according to a very comprehensive story in billmoyers.com, 29 of the 34 needed to force Congress to convene a Constitutional Convention are on board. Currently, even more states than that (38) would have to ratify anything that comes out of the Convention, but there’s some thought the Convention itself could change the rules so that wouldn’t have to be the case.
But anyway the latter of the two seems more likely, were it to happen.
We want to take a second to point out a huge irony here. Many of the people who are most gung-ho about redoing the Constitution at the same time want “originalist” judges, precisely because of their inflexibility on interpreting the Constitution as it’s currently written. (Of course they might argue they are being completely consistent: originalists would not argue with changing the Constitution if it’s done using the precise steps set out in Article Five, which we’ve attached here.)
So what precisely do they want? Different things. But they all boil down to one thing, really.
Charles Koch wants to get a balanced budget amendment out of it. And Koch would like to specify that’s the only order of business, so it doesn’t degenerate into a free-for-all. But even just a balanced budget amendment would be bad enough because it would almost certainly guarantee an end to Social Security and Medicare as we know it. Since no way will military spending be cut. And it’d have to come from somewhere. And in our opinion it’s a foolish idea because the government should have the ability to borrow and spend during times of economic duress when tax revenues would also plunge, because that’s absolutely the worst time to have an amendment that forces a cutback in spending. And the government will never be disciplined enough to run a surplus when the economy is booming and revenues are up. Just like right now when Republicans decided to give corporations and rich people giant tax breaks and instead of running a surplus are now seeing corporate tax revenues below Recession-levels.
So even though Koch and Trump have this little simmering feud going on, it’s important to remember Koch is still not a “good guy”. Although as we’ve said before, he does have a completely consistent philosophy, unlike Trump’s near-completely improvisational approach to governing.
But what may be most important is to look at what some of the individual states want that have signed on to the Convention idea:
- One big idea that gets bandied about every time this topic comes up: removal of birthright citizenship from the Constitution. So you wouldn’t become a U.S. citizen just by virtue of being born here.
- Another item that’s being advocated for inclusion in a revamped Constitution: giving states the ability to override any Supreme Court ruling or federal law if 2/3 of them get together and vote against it.
What do those and other things being discussed have in common? They all serve to prevent diverse, mostly urban areas with high population growth from growing too much political muscle, and preserving the disproportionate political strength of less populated, less diverse areas.
After all, you don’t hear anybody at the forefront of the Constitutional Convention effort saying they want to take one Senator away from Wyoming, for instance, since California has 80X the population, yet they are both equally represented in the Senate.