SJR 36, passed by a vote of 29 to 20, is a memorial to Congress to summon a convention “limited” to proposing amendments that would “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress.”
Those are all terrible ideas, much the worse for being transparently vague. One of the schemes featured on the web site of the far-right lobby that’s promoting a convention calls for allowing the states to overturn any federal law or Supreme Court decision when three-fourths of them — that’s 38 states — agree to do so. The nation would become as weak as it was under the Articles of Confederation that the Constitution replaced. It would become heaven on earth for the plutocrats and hell on earth for everyone else.
A convention of the states is one of the means provided in Article V for amending the Constitution, but there never has been one, and for good reason. It’s dangerous. To have such an event in a country that’s as polarized as ours is now, and as vulnerable as ours is to right-wing money, would be historically irresponsible.
It’s far from certain that the convention’s agenda could be limited no matter what the Congress might say. The Constitution itself, it bears remembering, was written by a convention whose duty, as proclaimed by the Congress of the day, was limited explicitly to revising the ineffective Articles of Confederation. It set out to scrap them instead.
Nothing in Article V provides for limiting the agenda of a convention or even for how delegates would be chosen. Election isn’t mentioned. The only caveat is that three-fourths of the states would have to ratify the convention’s work product, as with any amendment originating in Congress.
One of the plots festering on the far right is to repeal the 18th Amendment and let the legislatures — the gerrymandered legislatures — appoint U.S. senators again. Another is to repeal the birthright citizenship guaranteed by the 14th Amendment and quite likely the equal protection of laws as well. Freedom of the press and of speech would be on life support too. Abortion, immigration, guns, the separation of church and state — every conceivable hot-button issue — would be in the cauldron.
All this would play neatly into the designs of the right-wing lobby, “Citizens for Self-Government,” that boasts 10 states in its pocket so far. One of its major funders, at $500,000 two years ago, is Robert Mercer, a significant financial backer of Donald Trump’s election, who reportedly made a start-up investment in Breitbart News, and is closely connected to Trump adviser Stephen Bannon. Salon has called the convention movement “a billionaire funded coup.”
The danger is real. The Republican Party now controls 33 legislatures, just one shy of the number needed to call a convention. The convention lobby is working on those that haven’t succumbed yet.
The nasty piece of work that the North Carolina Senate passed, with five responsible Republicans courageously voting “no,” sits in a House committee that may not act on it this year. Then again, it may. Regrettably, Rep. Mike Clampitt, R-Bryson City, is one of the House version’s co-sponsors. (Jim Davis, R-Franklin, was absent when the Senate voted.) Clampitt could not be doing a greater disservice to our country had he set out to blow up the Capitol, the Washington Monument, and the Statue of Liberty.