By Paul Bremmer
Ten states now have taken the first step toward limiting the power of the federal government.
Officials from Arizona, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Carolina, Virginia and Wyoming have filed resolutions calling for a convention of states that would propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution with the express purpose of limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.
Article V of the Constitution gives the states the power to call such a convention. The article reads, in part:
“The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress.”
Mark Meckler, president of Citizens for Self-Governance, co-founded CSG’s Convention of States Project, which is currently working to convince the necessary 34 state legislatures to pass bills calling for a convention of states.
As long as all of the applying states call for a convention to deal with the same issue, Congress must call the convention into session.
Meckler said that, in addition to the 10 states that have already filed, he expects another 15 to 20 states to file resolutions for a convention in the next few weeks.
“We will have legislation introduced in enough states to get to 34,” Meckler said.
He made it clear that filing a resolution is not enough; a state legislature must vote to pass it in order to make it official.
CSG is employing a grassroots-based strategy to gain support for a convention. The organization is trying to build a political operation in at least 40 states, getting 100 people to volunteer in at least three-quarters of each state’s legislative districts. The organization reported just days ago that volunteers had submitted convention of states petitions in 95 percent of all state house districts in the U.S.
Meckler said the need for the states to limit federal power did not suddenly arise overnight. He believes a convention like this should have been held years ago. But he thinks people are only now beginning to understand the power that Article V gives the states.
“Frankly, most people just didn’t understand that the sovereign citizen had retained that power in the Constitution, and so I think that knowledge of the power that the people have under Article V is just now reaching critical mass,” Meckler said.
Randy Barnett, professor of legal theory and director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution, said it’s about time for a convention of the states.
“I think it’s one of the means that the Founders gave us to constrain the powers of the federal government, which is not about to constrain itself,” he said.
Barnett said if the states can agree to have a convention, they should be able to agree on some amendments as well. The professor mentioned two things he would like the convention to do – impose term limits and give states the power to repeal federal laws.
“There are a lot of good ideas that have been circulated, but it’s going to be a give-and-take like all deliberative assemblies are,” Barnett said.
Meckler agrees that a convention would be able to agree on certain fundamental reforms that members of both parties support.
“Contrary to what the politicians pitch us on, and what the media tends to pitch us on generally, the nation is not as divided as they would like us to believe,” Meckler said.
He mentioned three amendments that he believes the convention would agree on. The first is term limits for congressmen and senators, the second was a balanced budget amendment, and the third was a single subject amendment, which would mandate that every bill Congress passes contain only a single subject. He emphasized that all three of those proposals have broad bipartisan support from the American public.
“So I think what comes out of a convention are things that are what I would describe as very mainstream, non-radical, that the vast majority of Americans will agree upon,” Meckler said.
Still, Meckler realizes some people will oppose a convention of the states. The John Birch Society, for example, challenged the wisdom of an Article V convention in a series of 16 questions. But Meckler is untroubled by the opposition so far.
“We’ve met some resistance, but it’s so far relatively minimal, and the resistance has come from folks who love the Constitution and some folks who mistakenly believe that somehow this opens Pandora’s Box,” he said.
Meckler said he has not yet faced any resistance from establishment politicians in Washington. However, he thinks that’s only because they aren’t paying attention to his movement yet.
“I think that pushback from the establishment will come, because they like the perks and the benefits of centralized power, and we’re trying to disperse that power back to the people where it belongs,” he said.
If the states do end up calling a convention, the historical weight of the moment will not be lost on Meckler. It would be the first time the states had ever exercised their right under Article V to call a convention to amend the Constitution.
“This is a tool that was given to us in 1787 in the Constitutional Convention, and it was literally drafted for moments such as this, when the American public felt that the federal government had exceeded the bounds that were intentionally placed upon it by the founders,” Meckler said.
He continued, “And we’ve never used it before, which is really extraordinary. And so to use it for the first time, to actually call a convention of states, I would say it’s in the top tier of historic moments in American constitutional history.”