For or Against a Convention of States

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.

30 comments

  1. George Chidi says:

    “One can find fault with both positions.” That’s an understatement.

    Nullification? You mean like when segregationists decided that schools in the south should not be integrated, and tried to essentially ignore federal law to keep them that way? That worked out well.

    I’m all for a convention of states, as long as it takes … oh, about six or eight years to get to 34 states. The rules for an Article V convention allow for all kinds of fun changes to the Constitution, from specifically defining “arms” in the 2nd Amendment to redefining corporate personhood. Make no mistake: an Article V convention can effectively tear up the current Constitution and start over.

    And while conservatives do not have a voting majority of the public today — they’re riding a gerrymander from 2010 — I figure progressives will have a clear majority in at least 30 states in eight years. The only reason these guys are pushing for an Article V convention right now is because Republicans have a slight lead in the delegation count in state houses, one that’s going to evaporate quickly.

  2. blakeage80 says:

    I wonder if an Article V convention would lead to a split of The Republic. States just decide to take their ball and go home. I trust NO ONE to rewrite any portion of The Constitution today without inserting all sorts language that will serve to empower further those already in power. Nullification, I believe would also lead to a split. It did the first time, why wouldn’t it again? Not doing anything, will probably lead to a revolution. *sigh* I wish we would just get it over with. If I am going to live in a socialist nation, I’d rather know it and drop this whole facade of freedom. Then I’d know its not my place to care what happens.

    • George Chidi says:

      If there’s a country with more freedom to be had, feel free to move. Make your arguments and take it to the polls unless you’re in a fighting frame of mind. That also worked out well.

      • Harry says:

        In a socialist state – especially a third world one – there’s no more right to emigrate. Also, you shouldn’t encourage people to take up arms…it results in too many deaths on all sides.

          • Harry says:

            Cuba? Venezuela? Belarus? North Korea? Those are extreme examples but there are plenty of others where people would like to leave but can’t because they don’t have the means to escape.

      • blakeage80 says:

        As you so aptly pointed out above, my point of view is soon to be a clear minority, so what I do at the polls won’t matter. However, I’ll amend my statement in the spirit of the Scottish question being voted upon today. Doing nothing won’t lead to a revolution. It will lead to a weak nation with a stagnant economy full of fearful, bored citizens who will one day insist upon separating from The Union, thinking they’ll do better by themselves. So, no matter the course we take, I see The United States fragmenting.

      • Bobloblaw says:

        You make a good point. These gimmicks are coming from conservatives who frankly have lost elections after elections. The problem is an increasingly leftist electorate, not the constitution.

  3. objective says:

    we have a system that can change, without the need to take up arms, or inciting the need to take up arms, or secede, or live outside the rule of law. we have courts, we can do a convention…for better or worse, our system of rule of law deserves some respect. what Arena seems to be advocating is disrespect, lawlessness, and a form of rebellion. it’s more than unfortunate.

    • Harry says:

      If things get worse, then other nations will look like better options. Even if a socialist dictatorship would emerge here and attempt to ban emigration it’s impossible to stop it. Quality emigrants will always be needed in more enlightened lands.

  4. Will Durant says:

    We’ve screwed up amendments a couple of times. I certainly don’t trust the highest bidder representatives that we currently elect to mess with the whole cloth. That being said there are some issues that really need addressing like 3 Federal crimes mentioned in the Constitution as originally ratified to more than 45,000 today.

  5. Stefan says:

    Do they still do those fantasy camps where middle aged people get to go to spring training and pretend for a moment that they are professional baseball players? This is like that except for government, and there’s an outside chance they’ll change the rules of Major League Baseball so only middle aged white players get to be first basemen.

  6. Jon Richards says:

    One of the better arguments I’ve heard for restraining the federal government would be to repeal the 17th Amendment, which allowed for the direct election of Senators. One of the purposes of the Senate was to act as the ‘cooling saucer’ to slow down possible excesses of the House of Representatives. Another was to give the states a way to be represented at the federal table.

    The 17th Amendment took away the ability of the state legislatures to select Senators that would be accountable to them. It also made the Senate more like the House, bringing a more populist flavor to the upper chamber.

    • George Chidi says:

      Folks who talk about repealing the 17th Amendment generally gloss over the reasons we have it in the first place: unbearable public corruption.

      The robber barons and tycoons of the late 19th century discovered it’s far easier — and cheaper –to bribe the right folks in a state legislature than it is to curry favor with the public at large. Senatorial appointment devolved into a bidding war, reducing the election of state legislators to consideration for their support for this or that U.S. Senate candidate. And, when a legislature could not decide on a candidate — often because swing votes from some minor league rep from the middle of nowhere were holding out for bigger bribes — the seat simply went unfilled for months and occasionally years.

      It is insane to consider doing away with direct election of senators in the environment of public corruption we’re facing now at the state level.

      The only reason this is even up for consideration is because Republicans hold a majority of state legislatures, despite a minority of voters casting ballots for them at the federal level. The only reason Republicans have that majority of legislatures is a legacy gerrymander from 2010. In 2022, all of that goes away with the first election after redistricting … so may as well push for a last-gasp grasp of advantage now, while you can.

      Good luck with that.

  7. I sponsored the Convention of States resolution and got it passed out of the House and helped get passed the Senate version. So it’s no secret I support an article V convention where several amendments limited by topic can be considered.

    I’ll point out that many amendments to our Constitution came about because of the threat of an article V convention. In the early 1990’s, if memory serves, the U.S. Senate came within a few votes of sending a balanced budget amendment to the states for ratification. That vote took place because about 30 states called for an article V convention to consider such an amendment. My point is the article V process is not a fools errand. Even if you never get to a convention, Congress may respond and take up the issues that have broad public support.

    Additionally, because it takes Red and Blue states to pass any proposed amendment, fashioning a proposal to achieve some of what they want but that will also appeal to the other side. Wouldn’t it be nice if Republicans and Democrats actually talked to each other with an eye toward finding common ground on important issues? I think the article V process can help bring that about.

  8. Dave Bearse says:

    Goody!

    Does this mean we can look forward to abolishing the 16th and 17th amendments? Turning our Senate representation over to the General Assembly and crony-in-chief would be a blessing, what with the average Georgia voter being about as informed as a bag of hair. (H/T to Fran Millar!) And the fair tax is just the thing we need to jump start the economy too.

Comments are closed.