We recently posted that Delegates Ware and Lingamfelter submitted legislation calling for a Constitutional Convention. Well, it looks like is a real movement in the House on the issue. Thirteen delegates have also co-sponsored legislation calling for a constitutional amendment, with delegates LeMunyon, Morris, and Ramadan all signed on as chief co-patrons. And this doesn’t seem to be part of the Tea Party movement, with the likes of Delegates Albo and Stolle attaching their names. The difference between this new measure and the one we previously reported on is that the call is directed towards a “Balanced Budget” amendment rather than a general call for a convention.
Why does this distinction matter? Well, it appears that Congress has taken the viewpoint that a call for a convention must match with other calls to be valid. This means if one call is a general call and another is for a balanced budget, then they don’t add to equal two calls. Some say that a State may rescind a call, while others say that a plain reading does not indicate that States do not have such power. This all last hit the news as Michigan passed a call for convention earlier this year calling for a Balanced Budget Amendment. Some considered this the 34th state and the question of whether a convention had been called was presented to Congress. Notably, Virginia has called for a convention in the past, but rescinded the call in 2004 on a joint resolution sponsored by Delegates Landes and Black and Senator Hanger. No word has emerged, but it is likely that Congress holding back based on interpreting the political procedure – such as the wording of calls being different or how rescinded calls are counted. Either way, every time a call comes in Congress will have to re-examine the issue and Virginia could be the tipping point.
How would such a Constitutional Convention work? The truth is, no one knows. The Washington Post cites this murkiness as a dangerous proposition. This is mostly due to the fact that there may be no check on the power of the Convention, and it is impossible to pre-determine how such a convention would work. The Constitution is entirely silent on the issue, and since it has never happened before there is no guidance from courts or recent tradition. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is behind the recent movement go call such a convention, and has a handy-dandy handbook for state legislators on the issue that outlines the process very nicely.
The CBPP report takes the side of the Post and warns that a Constitutional Convention could be dangerous to the Union, may go beyond the original mandate, and neither the courts nor Congress could restrict the states from doing as they wish – possibly destroying the Nation. ALEC, in their handbook, disagrees with this “runaway convention” scenario and cites numerous political and legal restraints that would prevent such dangers. Who is right? Well, most likely both are right. Such a convention would theoretically have the power to dismantle the United States, which is very dangerous. But would the States really vote for such a thing? No, because it isn’t in the interest of the States to dissolve the Union. Could they change the way our nation functions? Yes. But then, that is the point and many apparently feel that some sort of change needs to happen.
The United States is based on the agreed union of the member States, and if the States wish to change the rules by which they are United, they may do so – that is what Article V is for. Would this potentially cause major shifts on America? Yes. It might be similar to the formation of the European Union or any other modern reconstitution of a political body. The reality is this: If there is enough of a movement to bring about such a convention, it is indicative that there are enough problems with the current model to cause such a movement. The States must believe that the dangers of not having a convention outweigh the dangers of holding a convention, or it simply won’t happen. It does appear more and more states are leaning this way, which is what ALEC is pushing for and the CBPP is pushing against. Will Virginia be the one to tip the balance and have a Constitutional Convention actually called? We’ll see over the next few months, right in our own General Assembly…