Monday, March 13, 2017

Constitutional Amendments Anyone?

Here is something to really scare Americans already overwhelmed by Donald Trump and the Republican domination of all branches of government. How about a right wing re-write of the constitution?  

There are three ways in which the constitution can (constitutionally) be amended.  The first is the one that has been used in all of the 27 successful amendments to date, i.e. Congress proposes an amendment, which must be passed by a super-majority in both Houses; it is then sent to the states, and if three quarters of their legislatures approve the proposal, the amendment takes effect.

The second way starts with the states - if three quarters of them, 38, each pass a proposal with a majority vote, then it does not need to go to Congress.  It takes effect as an amendment to the Constitution.

The third way uses Article V and involves calling a Constitutional Convention.  To do this two thirds of the states (34) need to pass resolutions calling for such a convention.  If this is achieved, the proposal for a convention must then be ratified by three quarters of the states (38).  If successful the Convention can then change the Constitution in any way it chooses and Congress, the President and the Courts can do nothing about it.

But this will never happen you may say - voices of reason and moderation would surely prevail.  But then Trump could never become President. Except of course that he did and is.  And if you still pooh pooh the idea you might be interested to know that there is a well-funded organization called Citizens for Self-Governance (CSG) which is campaigning for a Constitutional Convention to be called and seems to be quite successful so far.  It is led by  Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots.  One of its directors is Eric O'Keefe, a former leader of the Libertarian Party.  O'Keefe has strong ties to the Koch bothers and a history of backing business-friendly right-wing causes. The Wikipedia entry
on the CSG contains the following. 

In December 2013, nearly 100 legislators from 32 states met at Mount Vernon to talk about how to call a convention of states. … In February 2014, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn announced that after his retirement from Congress, he would focus on promoting the Convention of States to state legislatures.

In December 2015, Marco Rubio endorsed CSG's efforts to a call an Article V Convention. In January 2016, Texas Governor Greg Abbott called for a Convention of States to restrict the power of the federal government.

As of 2016, CSG's application for a Convention of States has been passed in eight states: Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Alaska, Tennessee, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.

So they need to get another 26 states on board.  Well it still seems a long way off, but remember the Kochs have very deep pockets, and have a proven track record of steering state policies in directions that favour them and their cronies - especially in the fossil fuel industries. And it is said that elected politicians at the state level are more easily bought than those at the federal level.  Seeing how federal Congressmen and Senators seem to be completely in the pockets of groups such the the armaments lobby, the NRA and the Israel lobby, I wouldn't put much faith in state politicians' belief in the common good, being any sort of protection against a well-funded drive for a Constitutional Convention.  

After November's elections 32 of the state legislatures are controlled by Republicans. And there are 33 state governors who are Republicans plus one who is an independent.  So it is not out of the realm of possibility that CSG can muster the required 34 states to set the process rolling.

If they do pull it off, what specific amendments would they seek?  Well to quote Wikipedia again:

In September 2016, CSG held a simulated convention to propose amendments to the United States Constitution in Williamsburg, Virginia. An assembly of 137 delegates representing every state gathered to conduct a simulated convention.

The simulated convention passed amendments relating to six topics, including requiring the states to approve any increase in the national debt, imposing term limits, limiting the Commerce Clause to its original meaning [ending minimum wage, federal right-to-unionize, and child-labor laws], limiting the power of federal regulations [aka 'consumer protections'], requiring a supermajority to impose federal taxes and repealing the 16th Amendment [which legalized federal income taxes], and giving the states the power to abrogate any federal law, regulation, or executive order.

This gives a flavour of the way in which the USA might be changed. There might not be much of a national state left (except of course for the military).   A look at some of the supporters of the project, apart from the Kochs and their billionaire cronies, also gives an indication what to expect.  Public figures in support in include, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, broadcasters Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck; and politicians Sarah Palin, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, Allen West, and Greg Abbot.  

Trump seems to have some views in common with this movement - at least in terms of neutering the federal departments and agencies of which he doesn't approve e.g. Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments such as those of Education, Energy and Labor.

I suspect that if CSG were ever successful in getting a Constitutional Convention the temptations for the right wing oligarchs to tilt the table even further in their favour might be just too strong to resist.  So items such as prohibiting federal welfare payments, medical insurance and the like could be included as well as removing federal oversight of things such as pollution, labour standards, etc.  They might also throw a few sops to their right wing backers, which didn't directly benefit themselves, such as prohibitions on abortion, gay marriage and even laxer (if you can believe it) regulation of firearms.  

It all sounds pretty dystopian, and let's hope it never comes to pass. But we are in very unusual times.  Remember just a year ago people were talking about the crisis in the Republican Party and musing whether it could survive.  And here they are controlling both houses of Congress and the Presidency.  

I learned about the danger of this possible attempt on the US Constitution from an article by Thom Hartmann

Hartmann quotes from Franklin D Roosevelt's acceptance speech at the 1936 Philadelphia Democratic Convention - "out of this modern civilization, economic royalists [have] carved new dynasties.... It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction."  I am not sure exactly to what FDR was referring but his running mate (and Oliver Stone hero) Henry Wallace had written of these privileged princes that "they claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection."

I am quite confident that the same drives and desires motivate today's wealthy backers of constitutional change.  I am not saying that it is going to happen.  But it could happen and everyone should be aware of the dangers this project presents.

1 comment:

  1. It is more than passing difficult to avoid despair regarding the prospects of the New American Revolution setting human progress back hundreds of years, perhaps permanently. Perhaps that is a bit alarmist, even apocalyptic, but there it is...
    Constitutional amendments could well be the mechanism by which retrograde walls are erected as near insurmountable barriers to liberal correction, much less movement in even a somewhat progressive direction. Gee whilikers, these do seem dark times!
    I find two fonts of hope. The first, of course, is the growth in grassroots resistance of a magnitude equal to that of the sixties, with a potential to go much further. My previously apolitical niece in California flew to DC for the March and wears her pussy hat with pride to a variety of events. Let's not sell short what the American people might be capable of.
    The other is a bit more legalistic. First, it is of some interest that Obama has set himself a post-Presidential mission of working on correcting gerrymandering in the states. This is astute on his part and telling of where the action really is. It is state legislatures that could drive such things as constitutional conventions and, more importantly, they gerrymander electoral boundaries such that the federal congress is and shall ever more be Republican ... unless something changes.
    Something could change. The MOST hopeful news I have heard in a long time is what is happening in Wisconsin. Gerrymandering to ensconce Republican hegemony has been successfully challenged there, using a unique legal argument (or at least a technical development of the argument used to defeat racially based gerrymandering). It will go to the Supreme Court before it really means anything, but if it gets there quickly enough, history may be changed. It is a technical issue, and I offer the links.

    A little bit of hope in dire times in not such a bad thing, eh?