If the "coming conservative revolution" has you feeling a bit anxious these days, stop reading now. You haven’t seen anything yet.
As of today, a possible 27 states have filed legally acceptable petitions to convene a new “constitutional convention” – something that hasn’t happened in the nation since the first one in 1787. These states say they want to amend the constitution to limit the federal government’s power and/or require a balanced federal budget. If they get to 34 states and this “constitutional re-write convention” happens, it’s “Katy, bar the door.”
That’s why legal scholars across the political spectrum have warned that a constitutional convention would be “an invitation to constitutional mayhem,” (from the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Harvard Law’s Lawrence Tribe). It’s unclear, yet possible, that many constitutional provisions and indeed the entire U.S. Constitution could be vulnerable to conservative attack once the convention happens. Yet instead of slowing down, the idea seems to be picking up steam. In the past few weeks alone, several states have introduced legislation calling for a constitutional convention, with some calling for a specific balanced budget amendment, while others advocating broadly for limiting “the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.”
There have been previous pushes over the last 25 years to convene a constitutional convention, but they went nowhere. Over the last few years, however, Republican control of state governments has ballooned. There are currently 24 states with Republican trifectas – where both houses of the state legislature and the governor are Republican - the highest total in over 60 years. Many of these states have super-majorities, too. (That’s compared with only 7 states with Democratic trifectas). In addition, these states have had the assistance of corporate-funded right-wing groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which offers model bills that provide ease and consistency for states petitioning for a constitutional convention.
We get it. Conservatives hate the federal government. Yet a constitutional convention seems like an awfully extreme way to complain about it. In fact, there are far less drastic options available to them right now, which should, at least, be considered before trying something so radical.
For example, right now they are pushing a bill in Congress, which just passed by House on a largely party-line vote (H.R. 3624, the “Fraudulent Joinder Prevention Act of 2016.”) This bill would force cases out of state courts and into an already overburdened federal court system. According to a letter sent to Congress by 26 public interest groups, this legislation would even “make it more difficult for Americans to enforce their rights in state courts” and would deprive state courts of jurisdiction over claims they should properly hear.
The entire conservative House delegations of several states, including Georgia, Mississippi, and Utah, voted for this legislation at the same time their state counterparts are pushing for a constitutional convention, complaining about federal power. Look in your own back yards first, folks. End this hypocrisy, and leave the Constitution alone.