Betty Rivard: Proposal for Constitutional Convention Too Risky
Charleston Gazette - Our Legislature is considering a number of resolutions that could fundamentally alter our U.S. Constitution and put our democracy at risk. While the resolutions call for a constitutional convention of the states to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, a convention could lead to sweeping, fundamental changes to our country. Read
Although the resolutions say the constitutional constitution would be limited to specific issues, such as a balanced budget amendment, legal experts, including conservative jurists, believe states cannot dictate the parameters once a convention is called.
“There is no way to effectively limit or muzzle the actions of a Constitutional Convention,” according to former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger. “After a Convention is convened, it will be too late to stop the Convention if we don’t like its agenda.”
Recently Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia expressed his reservations. “I certainly would not want a constitutional convention. Whoa! Who knows what would come out of it?”
The only time a constitutional convention has been held was in 1787, when the framers wrote the Constitution. During this convention, the delegates went well beyond their mandate of amending the Articles of Confederation to create an entirely new governing document. A new convention could also write its own rules, set its own agenda, and possibly even choose a new ratification process.
Based on Article V of the U.S. Constitution, the only check and balance is the ratification of any amendments by at least 38 states. So far, 25 states have adopted resolutions calling for a convention of the states under Article V. This is only 9 shy of the 34 states needed to call a convention.
While it is understandable that citizens are frustrated by the gridlock in Washington, a convention would not alleviate this problem. It would increase polarization and could drastically alter our U.S. Constitution.
As Robert C. Byrd said over two decades ago: “I support a balanced budget, and I want to lower the federal deficits... But the answer must not be to perform a lobotomy on our nation’s most sacred principles of checks and balances and separation of powers ... simply because we are frustrated.”
Even if the convention could be limited to enacting a federal balanced budget amendment, this could seriously damage our state’s economy and our most vulnerable residents. According to Macroeconomic Advisors, one of the nation’s premier private economic forecasting firms, if a balanced budget amendment had been in place in 2012, it would have thrown about 15 million people out of work as a result of $1.5 trillion in federal spending cuts.
Similar to other legislation being proposed here this year, this resolution is being promoted by outside interest groups, despite no public groundswell of support. It is part of a larger movement that has been widely publicized on right-wing talk shows and websites and paints the federal government as so dysfunctional that a constitutional convention is the only way to break the logjam and remediate major problems. None of these problems are a sufficient reason to open up the U.S. Constitution to wholesale change.
While we all support fiscal stability for our country, the fact is the deficit has been going down rapidly and recent federal actions have already put caps on discretionary spending. If our goal is to reduce deficits over the long-term, this will have to include tackling the central problem — the growing cost of health care. If the U.S. brought its health costs in line with other advanced countries, we would be running surpluses instead of deficits.
The chaos and uncertainty from the legal disagreements and procedural conflicts related to a convention would contribute to instability in West Virginia and the nation. State policymakers should avoid these risks and reject any resolutions calling for a convention. Only by working together across party lines can we tackle our nation’s finances and preserve the framework of our beloved and enduring Constitution.