Discontent with the US federal government has hardly gone unnoticed in recent years. Beyond broad public outcry, from the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street, it has boiled over into legislative defiance and civil disobedience, under the banner of the Tenth Amendment.
One tactic yet to be utilized, however, is a state-initiated convention to bypass congressional approval and amend the constitution. Although state legislators have the authority to call a convention and make amendments (from Article V), with final ratification from three quarters of the states, they have yet to do so in the more than two centuries since ratification.
The Congress … on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments.
~Article V, US Constitution
If the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) has its way, that may all change in the near future. The free-market policy institute is the latest organization with considerable sway to join the rising Convention of States Project (COS) to “rein in federal government overreach,” as explained by Karen Lugo on Friday.
Lugo is the foundation’s director of the Center for Tenth Amendment Action, and she says that “TPPF is most interested in demonstrating to Congress that government must be accountable to citizens and to the Constitution.… [Because] Constitutional amendments trump laws, and they trump Congress.”
Neither she nor the COS have endorsed specific amendments. However, the most likely amendment appears to be a balanced-budget constraint or some variation on it such as the National Debt Relief Amendment.
In comments shared with the PanAm Post, Lugo affirms the “reckless debt” and its burden on future generations as a key driver: “Now that the American people know that Congress is unable or unwilling to recognize any limits on federal spending or regulatory reach, [constituents] must reinforce the rules that govern Congress; this is only done by providing more structure in the Constitution.”
The COS, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance, highlights that three states have already passed their resolution for a convention — Alaska, Florida, and Georgia — and they have volunteers at work in 38 additional states. COS president and cofounder, Mark Meckler, contends that there is a “rapidly growing movement” towards what would be an historic moment for the United States.
While constitutional or paleo conservatives might appear to be natural supporters of the push for an amendments convention, this is not necessarily the case. Two of the most vocal organizations against the idea are both staunch traditionalists, the Eagle Forum and the John Birch Society (JBS). On the other hand, the American Legislative Exchange Council supports it, and the association of state legislators is perhaps the most influential of the organizations in favor of greater federalism and decentralization.
To muddy the ideological lines further, prominent progressives such as Lawrence Lessig of Harvard University are outspoken supporters, as “an alternative to Washington as the place where our nation’s constitutional problems can be addressed.” They share different concerns, such as corporate electioneering, but still see a convention as a potential solution.
Bill Hahn, JBS public relations and marketing manager, agrees that “the federal government is out of control. Indeed, the federal government has been operating outside of its constitutional limitations for at least 100 years.” But he says there is no quick fix, and he poses the question, “Why would they suddenly start adhering to the new amendments?”
“[JBS] would rather restore the limitations of the Constitution through an educated electorate. After all, it is through the electorate that we have the current state of government, and the electorate will need to correct this. Many tools and avenues of action are available to activists as well as state legislatures to do this, including educating the states to nullify anything from the federal government that is not within the limitations of the Constitution. This is within their 10th Amendment right to do so.”