Friday, July 12, 2013

Convention first or Amendments first

I know that there are some that will see this that are Mark Levin fans, but please bear with me.

I went to Mark Levin's site and watched the video promoting his upcoming book, Liberty Amendments.  Obviously, since this book is not out yet, I don't know the contents, but based on the video, here is what I am assuming from it:

He would propose that we get the states together and decide to have a Convention of the States to Propose U.S. Constitutional Amendments.  Meaning that the states would get together first to apply to Congress as one application from the necessary number of states to trigger the Convention to debate and then vote on Amendments to be presented to the states for ratification.

As noted in the text here, only that line which is of particular interest:

Article V - U.S. Constitution -

"on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments,"

The Constitution indicates that the Legislatures could apply for a convention and that the purpose of this would be to propose amendments.  This particular way of getting amendments proposed, and then passed to the states, has never been used. Every amendment in the U.S. Constitution, to date, has been proposed by Congress and then sent to the states for ratification.  Though in regards to the Seventeenth Amendment, the direct election of Senators, many of the state legislatures adopted resolutions demanding that a convention be called in an effort to pressure the Senate to finally relent and approve and send to the states the proposal that became the Seventeenth Amendment. This was also the case with the Equal Rights Amendment that failed to be ratified.

In recent history, as with the Equal Rights Amendment, the state legislatures will pass a resolution in regards to a specific topic with their application for a convention, or as I have seen recently, they will only send a letter to their Senator "asking" for them to submit a resolution to Congress for a particular amendment.  As noted, this has not been successful as of yet, and I question why states are asking their Senator to submit something.  If the legislature of a state has decided an issue, they should be able to direct the Senator to act on behalf of the state in Congress, and if the Senator fails in acting, the state should be able to hold them to account for that - not necessarily remove them, but censure and reporting to the citizens of the state in what matters the Senator did not follow the direction of the state legislature.  Since we are a Republic, and the representative in Congress are suppose to represent the interests and concerns of the citizens they represent, this seems like a reasonable request to me.

I believe that the ineffectual use of the process is why Mark is suggesting, if my understanding of his video is correct, that the states get together and send the application as one application from among enough states to trigger the convention.

Mark, if you get a chance to read this and I have misinterpreted what I heard, I apologize for that.  

But, if what I have assumed here is correct, and based on historical evidence provided above, I actually have the same fear that Congress has of calling an open Convention of the states in regards to Amendments.  Unfortunately, with no specific direction in the Constitution, nor I believe in the Federalist Papers on this subject, since I have not seen anyone discuss this in depth, we are left with a situation where we aren't fully informed on what the framers intents were in providing this method of amending the Constitution.  Maybe Mark's book will explain his interpretation of what we do have in sufficient depth to clarify this matter.

My fears are that with the current state of our society, and the level of political correctness we currently have, a Convention with unfettered access to propose amendments will be an unworkable process.  Every special interest group, from PACs, Corporations, Christian (or insert any other religion here) Fundementalists/Evangelicals/Conservatives/Orthodox, same-sex marriage advocates/detractors, and basically every other realm of society, will insist on having their point of view debated and their point of view submitted to the states as a proposed amendment.

This is obviously an untenable position to put ourselves in.  If the Convention turns away any group, without actually taking up their proposal, then the Convention would face a legal challenge at the Supreme Court.  If the Convention accepted all proposals, they will face an unending stream of proposals, many of which would dramatically alter the state of the society if they do get passed and could undermine the original intent of the framers, though since the amendment still has to go to the legislatures of the states to be ratified, there is somewhat of a check on that.

In addition, who will attend this Convention?  How many from each state? If this is the place that amendments get proposed, what is to keep someone from buying off enough delegates to get their proposal through?

With no specific direction, or inferred direction, from the framers of the Constitution in this regards, I believe that the only way to address this is to get either Congress or the Supreme Court to make a determination how a Convention would be handled.  The difficulty here is determining what that legislation should be and how to make it so that no state gets deprived of the right to submit a proposed amendment, but would make the process one that would be workable.

I have been aware for many years of this second process to amend the Constitution, but only just recently considered even trying to get the process triggered.  My intent was to get enough states to pass one amendment along to Congress, triggering a single Convention for that one amendment, which would then be able to be used as a precedent setter and a way to be able to provide a framework for future Conventions.  But, in rereading Article V in light of Mark's video, I have to agree that there is not enough specific information in the Constitution to be able to say on the application of the legislatures that it would be for that specific purpose.  Maybe the best way would be to include that in the application, that the convention would be only for that particular amendment as submitted by the state.  Then, once we get one Convention called, the discussion could be opened as to how to proceed with future Conventions.

I will draft up an actual amendment proposal to define the scope of the Convention, and post that in the near future.

Thank you,

Amendment Guy
Twitter @amendment_guy

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