A major con game threatens the future of this country, and Arkansas is at risk of becoming one of the players. It’s a call for a Constitutional Convention to amend the U.S. Constitution. SJR2 has passed the Arkansas Senate and will soon be on the Arkansas House floor for a vote.
Here’s what you need to know: Anti-government special interest groups such as ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) and the TEA Party are pushing state legislatures to call for a Constitutional Convention (ConCon) to amend the U.S. Constitution, the first such convention since 1787. Under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, 34 states are required to have live calls to force the U.S. Congress to convene to consider amendments.
Previous live calls for a ConCon have focused on a balanced budget amendment at the federal level. The dangers of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution have been widely documented over the years by leading economists and Nobel laureates. The biggest danger is that by requiring a balanced budget every year, no matter the state of the economy, already-weak economies could be tipped into longer and deeper recessions. This would cause even larger job losses and irreparable economic harm for the populace. That’s because the federal government would be forced to cut spending, raise taxes, or both, at a time when it would be bad economic policy.
Today, a new national push for another type of ConCon potentially poses an even bigger and more dangerous threat than the balanced budget amendment. As reflected in SJR2, the new “con” calls for a broader constitutional convention to consider amendments that would fundamentally alter the powers and scope of our national government and push power back to the states. This call aims to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of members of Congress. The overall goal would be to push more decision-making back to the states and give state legislatures even greater authority than they have now.
To date, eight states have passed resolutions calling for this broader type of convention. SJR2 —which has passed the Arkansas Senate and is now on the floor of the Arkansas House — would add Arkansas to this list of states. Such a convention would be a horrendous idea and threaten our state and our nation’s future.
First, holding a ConCon now after the divisive and tumultuous elections of 2016 would be very dangerous for this country. Not only is the country intensely and deeply divided politically with the election of Donald Trump as President, but the high level of mistrust and anxiety would only worsen if attempts were made to force a convention. The country would find itself mired in political battles from which the country might never recover. Given the current state of political affairs, any chance or hope there is of national healing or bringing the country back to together, however small, could be lost for a very long time.
Second, no matter what the Arkansas General Assembly might put in the language of its resolution calling for a ConCon, it and other state legislatures would be unable to limit the agenda at a convention or even the ground rules under which it operates. Once called, there would be no legal check on the Convention from the courts or any other government institution. The Convention would be free to rewrite or cast aside wholesale parts of the U.S. Constitution. No one knows what might happen. As the late United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia once said, “I certainly would not want a constitutional convention. Whoa! Who knows what would come out of it.”
The U.S. Constitution would be opened up to whatever amendments its delegates chose to propose and adopt. Doubt that this could happen? One only has to look back at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 – originally called to amend the Articles of Confederation – which resulted in the new Constitution we have today. There is also no guarantee the amendments adopted at such a convention would be good for Arkansas. But unlike the laws passed by the U.S. Congress, any constitutional amendments adopted would be impossible to change or undo absent yet another convention.
Third, a ConCon of this type could threaten the very existence of the U.S. Constitution, a document that has served us so well for over 200 years and that has made America, with all of its flaws, one of the greatest nations on earth. Arkansas legislators have sworn to defend the Constitution, not put it in harm’s way as a ConCon is likely to do. Arkansans serving in the military have sacrificed much, in some cases their lives, to protect the freedoms outlined in the Constitution.
Fourth, there is little doubt that the special interest groups calling for a ConCon would seek to influence the agenda at the convention, possibly resulting in policy changes that would impose undue burdens and hardships on particular groups in our state. Why? It’s highly likely that the amendments adopted at a convention would shift immense powers back to the states and sharply curtail the ability of the federal government to raise revenue and pay for programs that have protected the economic well-being of and opened up new opportunities for disadvantaged and poor populations.
Arkansans would do well to remember that a poor state such as Arkansas usually gets back more in benefits from federal programs than the money it put in. That would be at risk at a convention. It’s highly unlikely that a conservative state legislature, such as Arkansas, would be willing to raise taxes to offset the diminished power of the federal government in this area.
Finally, for all of its shortcomings, the federal government has a better track record of improving the economic well-being and protecting the legal rights of disadvantaged populations and groups that have been discriminated against than many state legislatures do, especially in the South. That, too, would be in jeopardy.
So, the game is afoot. The Con of the ConCon is on. Here’s hoping Arkansas chooses not to play.
Take Action now! Call your state Representative TODAY and urge them to VOTE NO on SJR2.