At last Saturday’s Coweta County Republican Party breakfast, the discussion focused on the Article V movement that proposes having the states hold a convention that would amend the constitution. Speaking in favor of a convention of states was Jackie Peterson with the Convention of States Project. Speaking in opposition was Fulton County Tea Party activist Richard Arena. The seventeen minute presentation was caught on video, and can be seen below.
Speaking first was Jackie Peterson, who called the U.S. Congress a “clear and present danger to our republic.” By having a majority of the state legislatures call for a constitutional convention, it could be amended in order to
- Rein in the power and jurisdiction of the federal government
- Institute term limits upon federal officials, including Congress, the Supreme Court and even government employees like former IRS honcho Lois Lerner
- Institute fiscal restraints upon the federal government.
Georgia passed a convention of states resolution during the 2014 legislative session. Other states, including Florida and Alaska have followed suit, however 31 more states need to pass legislation in order to have the convention. According to Peterson, the Convention of States movement has volunteers in 173 of Georgia’s 180 State House districts.
In the second half of the presentation, Richard Arena suggested that an Article V convention would not be effective, and that instead, states should use nullification to reduce the power of the federal government. Arena claims the federal government deliberately violates and makes a mockery of the Constitution as the founders intended it to work. Therefore, he argues, any modifications made to the Constitution to clarify or limit the power of the federal government would be ignored.
He says that state governments should ignore federal laws they view as being unconstitutional, and should refuse federal money if it is offered for an unconstitutional purpose. The power of state governments to nullify federal laws lies in the ninth and tenth amendments to the Bill of Rights, according to the nullification advocates. Since these amendments specify that rights not listed in the Constitution belong to the states or the people, that would include the right to say no to a federal law they believe to be unconstitutional.
One can find fault with both positions. For those advocating a convention of states, the possibility of the convention considering other possible amendments than what are proposed by the states is a concern. The resolutions passed in Georgia are supposed to limit the topics discussed at the convention, but would those restrictions hold?
One of the arguments used by proponents of nullification is that government should be one of laws not of men. It’s an often repeated phrase, even by Arena as he argues that Convention of States amendments would not work. Yet, he proposes that federal laws men view as unconstitutional be ignored. There is a certain lack of logic there. Who has the right do decide what should be nullified? Could county commissions or city councils arbitrarily decide that a federal law would not be enforced within their boundaries?
The size and scope of government at any level — federal, state or local — is a question at the heart of politics. Are either of these methods a proper approach when those on the left and the right have different ideas about government’s role? Your thoughts are welcome in the comments.