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Convention of States Is A Waste Of Effort

By Greg L | 31 January 2015 | National Politics, Virginia Politics | 7 Comments

Proposed legislation calling for a “Convention of the States” to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution has been the subject of a lot of discussion lately, and rightly so.  Having never actually been convened before in the 226-year history of our Republic and with no legal mechanisms in place to govern what it would look like and how it would operate, there’s a lot of questions about the wisdom of doing this.  What I haven’t heard adequately explained is why we would ever want to.

The intent expressed by proponents is laudable: to clarify language in the Constitution that has been misinterpreted over time by the courts and ensure that the original interpretations and intents of such things as the Interstate Commerce Clause and General Welfare Clause are restored and don’t continue to be used as a catch-all excuse for the federal government to do whatever it wants.  Great.  I’m all for that.  So what does any of that have to do with a Convention of the States?

If that is what we want to do, there’s a perfectly functional, well-understood mechanism to make that happen.  Draft amendments to the Constitution, submit them to the states for ratification, and let’s have the public debate about why we need to do that.  You’d of course need 38 states to ratify the amendments but then you’re done.  The somewhat tricky part is to get two-thirds of Congress to agree to propose them, and concerns about whether that’s feasible is what’s driving the call for a Convention of the States which would replace the 66% requirement of Congress with a 66% requirement of states.  In the minds of CoS proponents, getting 34 states to propose amendments is going to be easier than getting 67 members of the U.S. Senate to agree to anything.

So the choice here is whether we want to embark on a potentially hazardous journey with a Convention of States, or engage in a normal political exercise to convince a two-thirds majority in the Senate to vote for one or more amendments.  Right now there are 54 Republicans in the United States Senate, about a dozen of which aren’t any more useful than a warm bucket of spit when it comes to liberty issues, but could conceivably be convinced of the wisdom of adopting amendments like these. If you’re going to make an argument sufficient to convince 13 Democrat Senators to break ranks, most likely those useless Republicans won’t break in the opposite direction.

The immediate concern then becomes how such an argument is made.  Realistically, you get a liberty-oriented Senator to propose the bill, beat up Mitch McConnell enough that he’d actually bring it to a floor vote, and when it fails a cloture vote you now have a (likely somewhat bipartisan) list of targets.  You make their re-election campaigns a referendum on the vote those Senators cast, and you vote enough of them out that you convince the rest they better not oppose it the next time it comes up.  If you cannot vote enough of these guys out, don’t expect there’s much chance to get 38 states to ratify those amendments, as you obviously haven’t worked hard enough yet.

Yes, this is not a “quick fix,” but nothing in politics that is a quick fix ever works.  It takes time - by the intentional design of the framers - to get anything of importance done.  It takes work, because it is supposed to take work.  It requires that all sorts of people dedicate themselves to setting brushfires in the minds of others to convince them of the necessity of these amendments, exactly as the framers intended.  This is what they wanted, for all of you to get off your butt and take control of the future of this country, and they warned us about what would happen if that didn’t happen.

The only time we have managed to shift the political direction of the country in a positive direction is when we had candidates for Congress campaigning on an important issue related to conservative governance.  It happened in 1981 (+12 Senate Seats), in 1995 and again in 2015 (both +9 Senate seats).  In those elections we were talking about serious philosophical governance issues, whether it be conservatism in general (1981), the “Contract With America”, or limiting the role of government intrusion into our lives (2015).  In every other election when serious philosophical issues were not on the table, Republicans either tread water or more often, lost seats.  Just having a robust debate about federalism, the role of government and other issues central to the amendments I’m sure we’d be considering would, if history is a guide, result in a substantial swing in the makeup of Congress and make it possible for conservative challengers to not only replace liberal Democrats, but liberal and mushy-middle Republicans as well.  Not only do you get an opportunity to pass important Constitutional amendments, but you get better governance as well.

Really when you get down to it, a Constitution in and of itself is not an impenetrable bulwark that protects us from tyranny.  It cannot be.  What is an impenetrable bulkwark protecting liberty is a Congress composed of responsible conservatives that implement policy directly from the philosophy of conservatism.  If we “fix” Congress with better elected officials, we don’t need to amend anything to get the federal government to follow the Constitution as it was designed.  You can get that as a bonus, but what you get fundamentally is so much more useful.

Here’s where the real, hard work comes in.  If you seek better government, you need better elected officials.  If you want to have better elected officials, you need to have better, more informed, better educated voters.  That’s the source for all that is good or ill in government.  Amendments can’t hurt, but Congress and the Courts have always been able to evade those restrictions when they’ve wanted to.

A Convention of States is not going to get us better voters.  At all.  That’s where we need to spend our energy, not on a Convention of States.

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  1. L Faulkner said on 31 Jan 2015 at 6:52 pm:
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    That you haven’t heard reasons for the Conventions of States that satisfy you does not mean there are not adequate reasons. You are wrong. I hope the states will see fit to pursue this option to revise the Constitution in a way that does not do damage to our country and will produce the desire outcomes.

  2. Opinion said on 31 Jan 2015 at 10:30 pm:
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    I agree with you Greg.

    We have successfully used the approach you proposed 27 times. We have never attempted to use a “Convention of the States”, and have little go to on should we try.

    The problem isn’t with the Constitution. The problem is our legislators. They don’t know how to read. Perhaps finding new folks who actually read the Constitution and follow what it says might be an easier answer.

    I’m with Bob Marshall and Dick Black on this one. I like our Republic with all its flaws. Follow the Constitution. Write laws within its framework that address problems. Use the proven amendment process for dramatic changes.

    Good analysis, by the way.

  3. Stephen Spiker said on 1 Feb 2015 at 2:21 pm:
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    Holy shit, sober-minded and practical analysis from Greg that I agree 98% with.

    Where you and I fall on issues makes for a very odd Venn diagram on the Republican side of things, but I imagine if even just the places we overlap were made policy or put into action, we’d correct a lot of wrongs.

  4. Jack Slimp said on 1 Feb 2015 at 3:32 pm:
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    If you truly desire to be better informed on the issue, watch and listen to the debate between Michael Farris and Del. Bob Marshall at http://www.conventionofstates.com/watch_michael_farris_debate_delegate_bob_marshall

  5. the Bulletproof Monk said on 1 Feb 2015 at 6:41 pm:
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    Sorry. Iiha e little to no use for Farris or his failed runs of the past. Rumor has it that he’s threatening Senator Black with a primary. I’ll take that action. Mike would do well to look at my action for that seat. I can fill precincts from one end of the 13th to the other. I’m a Virginia son…and I have lifelong contacts all along that district.

  6. Anonymous said on 16 Feb 2015 at 11:11 am:
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    To force the supreme court to rule on the law and not an opinion, to relegate Washington alphabet agencies into the Federal system of government; no edicts without court. The elimination of all federal civil penalties; it is either a crime or not. The definition of who is a citizen; 14th amendment was for the slaves and not anchor babies. Marriage is between a man and a woman; happiness; and between two sexual perverted individuals who think their corrupt lifestyles have to be embraced as normal backed up by federal laws.

  7. Anonymous said on 16 Feb 2015 at 11:14 am:
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    oops, and not between two sexual perverted

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