Utah Legislature Watch: Some Conservatives don’t like Con-cons

Utah State Capitol in 2002

The Utah Capitol (Image via Wikipedia)

Even after the rise and vengeance of the Tea Party in elections last November, the political right still does not agree on how to carry out its goals. One of the oft shouted stated calls by activists, shrinking federal power and returning to a balance of power between the states and federal government (see also “federalism”), is a source of particular debate, discussion, and disagreement.

Yesterday, blogger and Utah state Rep.Holly Richardson (R, Pleasant Grove) wrote on her blog, and in a guest post here, asking whether it isn’t time for Article V amendments to the Constitution to rein in the growth of federal powers vis-à-vis the states.  In raising the possibility of a limited convention for specific constitutional amendments, she argued that

If the Founding Fathers were truly concerned with the overgrowth of the federal government – and certainly all evidence points to that as a primary concern – then the inclusion of Article V is not an accident. It was meant to be one more check by the states on the federal government.

Her post was timed to coincide with Utah state Rep. Brad Daw’s (R-Orem) proposal that the Utah legislature call for a national convention to write a balanced budget amendment.  Such an amendment would make it impossible for the federal debt limit to be raised.

Rep. Daw’s bill failed to get out of committee in a 5-5 vote that had conservative Republicans joining with Democrats to kill it. Ironic. According to the Salt Lake Tribune

[…] various conservative groups, including the Eagle Forum, the John Birch Society, the 9/12 Project and others argued that calling a constitutional convention would open a Pandora’s Box and any amendment could be on the table.

As always, politics makes strange bedfellows.

A similar proposal by Rep. Dave Clark (R-Santa Clara), which would call for a constitutional convention for an amendment that would allow states to repeal federal laws, was tabled when he saw the vote on Rep. Daw’s bill. Rep. Clark’s proposal is closely patterned after and intended to work with a proposal sponsored by Congressman Rob Bishop (R-Utah 1)  in the U.S. House of Representatives.

A sampling of the comments on Holly’s blog indicates a shadow of the fervor the conservative right feels about the potential for damage in an Article V convention, limited in scope, that morphs into a constitutional convention, a.k.a. a “con-con,” that is not limited in scope.

David Kyle said

I’m totally and very strongly against calling any type of Con-Con. What a mistake it would be to think that the very people that don’t obey our current Constitution would be entrusted to set the new rules, write a new one or make amendments in a vein attempt to fix it?!

Rod Mann worried about a convention going rogue:

At a Constitutional Convention is there any limit to the number of amendments that can be proposed? Answer No
– Is there a limit to the scope of these amendments? Answer No
– Do we think that the attendees representing the states will be anywhere near as qualified to discuss constitutional issues, theories of government, … as the attendees of the original convention. My answer not likely
– Who will end up attending the convention? The most qualified or the best connected? My answer in general the least qualified and best connected

…and so on. (Oh, and there was talk of nullification, too, an idea that should have died with the institution of slavery in the 1860s…but that’s for another day and another post.)

One colleague of mine, in a more rational moment of the debate, indicated that such a resort–to amendment and convention–was beyond what was necessary. We already have the resources in our current legal structure, he argued, and those ought to be used first before resort to amending the document that governs the nation.

Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer

Image via Wikipedia

He may have a point. But so does Holly. The federal constitution was drafted to include checks and balances, including multiple methods amendment. Each method was to give the states a way to check the power of the federal government, as well as for federal representatives of the people to check states against tyranny of their people. (That’s right…in this day and age, no one seems to remember that it is the federal government that has dragged the states kicking and screaming into the modern age by requiring more rights be allowed to their citizens.) No one wants a convention that will ripe apart the federal constitution; at the same time, amending to the constitution was in line with what the Founders anticipated by including Article V within its frame-work.

At this time, I am not ready to support that the time has come for amendment to the federal constitution by way of either an Article V convention or a con-con; however, I do think that the amendment process should be stripped of stigma and the fear that prevents a rational discussion. Government works best when citizens are educated, informed, engaged in improving it. Discussion about the relevant avenues of making those improvements should include amendment  and, yes, even constitutional conventions.

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2 responses to “Utah Legislature Watch: Some Conservatives don’t like Con-cons

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Utah Legislature Watch: Some Conservatives don’t like Con-cons | What they didn't teach in law school -- Topsy.com

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