Thursday, May 5, 2016

"CONvention CONspiracy" losing its fearful power

In the animated movie Monsters Inc., the eponymous company was falling on hard times as it had become ever harder to terrify human children in a modern society. Yet, fear -- an energy source -- was how the firm generated its profits.

The opponents of the Term Limits Convention are running into the same problem.

Once considered a potent tool to thwart efforts to limits terms of Congress, the myth of the Convention Conspiracy -- or "CON CON" -- is losing its ability to scare voters, legislators and, presumably, children who do their homework.

The Conspiracy Conventioneers claim that nefarious forces -- including groups like U.S. Term Limits -- are plotting to utilize an Article V amendment convention to rewrite or abolish the Constitution.

To anyone who has examined the issue, the CON CON is ridiculous on its face and more and more people are examining it. In the state capitols, where the term limits convention bills are being debated, we find that few really believe the CON CON story.

Under Article V, the Founders provided two methods for amending the Constitution.  One is the Congressional method, under which the U.S. Congress can – with a two-thirds vote – propose a Constitutional amendment.  The Congress is under no limitations in what it proposes. Indeed, some 200 amendments are introduced to Congress every session. Few ever meet the high threshold required by Article V to qualify them as official proposals that can be sent to the states. Those that do pass muster have zero force or effect until three-quarters of the states ratify them. This has only happened 27 times in U.S. history and ten of those are the Bill of Rights, ratified immediately after the Constitution was adopted.

The second method is the convention route. It was added to satisfy those of the Founders such as Anti-Federalist George Mason of Virginia who were concerned the new Constitution gave too much power to the Federal Government. The states needed a way to amend the Constitution without relying on Congress. Hence, the convention route was added – the final draft largely written by Federalist James Madison – and approved unanimously at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

The Convention route gives a convention – called upon applications by two-thirds of the states – the same power as the Congress to propose amendments. It does not create any additional powers to enact, alter or abolish any law.  The convention is, as Article V states, a "convention for proposing amendments."

Unlike a session of Congress, conventions can be called for limited purposes. Indeed nearly all applications for Article V conventions have been applications for conventions to tackle specific issues.  Historically, there have been over 400 calls with at least one from every state.

Whether limitation to one issue is possible is the central fetish of the Conspiracy Conventioneers.  This is absurd.  If 34 states apply for a limited convention, a limited convention will be called. With delegates chosen for the limited convention and sent with instructions with a limited convention in mind, there is no reason to think that a convention would not be limited. Indeed, in spite of occasional grandstanding by politicians, conventions have historically stayed on subject, as have most hearings and other government meetings officially called for a specific purpose.

But the real safeguard lies with the states and with the people. Any amendment proposed by an Article V convention must be ratified by three-quarters of the states. That is 38 states, or at least 75 individual legislative chambers as most states (except Nebraska) have two.  To think that anything outrageous -- or even controversial -- can survive that gauntlet is quite fanciful. Indeed, we believe only immensely popular and bipartisan proposals like term limits or maybe a balanced budget amendment have a snowball's chance of meeting that threshold.

This does not mean we never hear about the Convention Conspiracy as we advocate for a term limits convention. But increasingly, the CON CON myth is used as cover for politicians and front groups who don't want to admit to voters they oppose term limits or a balanced budget amendment.  They would rather pretend they are standing up for citizens, rather than against them.

They know there are still good people who, having not yet investigated the CON CON, will quake as the term limits opponents share their ghostly tale.  However, there are less every day.

Just as in the movie, no one is a greater threat to the fear-mongers than someone who knows the truth -- and is not afraid.