Tuesday, March 30, 2010

They say it can't happen -- they're wrong

The immediate, instinctive response that most people have to the ideas in the blog is "No way!  It'll never happen."

The mood of the country, in reaction to the radical agenda our government is pursuing, is at a point where it is possible to generate the support we need.

We believe the current political environment in the U.S. Congress will make it impossible for these amendments to be enacted in the traditional way. The Constitution provides for an alternative way for amendments to be enacted: by calling for a Constitutional Convention.

The Amendment Process

There are two basic ways to amend the Constitution. One has never been tried. The amendment process followed by all existing amendments is as follows:

The Act of Congress

1. The proposed amendments must be passed in a bill by Congress. The President doesn’t sign, and they immediately go to the state legislatures for approval.

2. The amendments must be approved by three-fourths of the state legislatures. There are 50 states, and 38 must approve. Upon passage of the 38th state, the proposed amendment(s) become an official part of our Constitution.

The Constitutional Convention

Article Five of the United States Constitution provides an option to assemble a national Convention to propose amendments to the United States Constitution as an alternative to the process of securing two-thirds approval in both houses of Congress.

Against oppressive government of any kind, the authors of the United States Constitution sought to establish institutional checks and balances. In framing the Constitution as the fundamental embodiment of such safeguards, the "Grand Convention" (assembled in Philadelphia, 1787) anticipated that, at some point, amending the basic law of the land might become necessary and yet be squelched by an unresponsive Congress. Foreseeing a day when the long-term health of the nation could depend upon a process that empowered states to secure amendments over the opposition of the national government, the delegates to the grand convention made provision for a future convention.

When two-thirds of the state legislatures shall apply - in the same procedure as they would follow for passing a law - then Article V of the Constitution requires the Congress to "call a convention for proposing amendments." In the Federalist Papers Alexander Hamilton notes that applications by two-thirds of the states would be "peremptory," and in the particular of whether Congress issues such a call, "nothing is left to the discretion of that body." In 1789 James Madison affirmed Hamilton's point that a refusal by Congress to call the convention would be unconstitutional.

The convention to propose an amendment (or amendments) carries no ratification powers. Article V authorizes the convention only to draft and propose amendment(s), which must then be ratified by either the state legislatures or unicameral ratifying conventions conducted within the individual states. The Framers built considerable complexity into the national legislature, whereas the Constitutional Convention was left unstructured, with its procedures permitted to be relatively simple and facile. The convention would consist of a single assembly of delegates (not two chambers as in Congress); and under Jefferson's lex majoris partis [4] a simple majority of members present and voting would suffice to submit a proposed amendment to the states.

Managing the State Process

We should develop and maintain a library of bills formatted as state-specific bills that can be downloaded by any state legislator and used as a draft bill to be submitted to his legislature. A key point: The Bill content should contain (all in the same bill):

• Apply to Congress to convene convention

• Appoint convention delegates

• Specify amendment language

• Limit delegate power to specific language

If we can generate sufficient grassroots support to maintain language discipline among the states, the risk of a “runaway convention” is eliminated, and the subsequent ratification debate is shortened, since the language will have already been approved once.

The key point to understand is that our focus should not be Congress, but rather the state legislatures.  They have the power to make these changes, if they can generate sufficient political will to do so.

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