Tom Coburn is up for a constitutional convention
posted at 8:21 pm on September 3, 2014 by Jazz Shaw
Here’s an idea you hear almost every day. But you don’t always hear it from somebody like Tom Coburn. Maybe it’s time to bypass the dysfunctional Congress and just have a good old fashioned, Article V Constitutional convention.
Sen. Tom Coburn is pushing for a national convention to amend the Constitution.
The Oklahoma Republican, who has grown disenchanted with gridlock in Washington, will officially launch his effort after he retires from the Senate in a few months.
Support for a convention of the states to overhaul the nation’s charter document has increased among conservatives, who are frustrated by Congress’s failure to reform entitlement programs.
“I think [George] Mason was prophetic that we would devolve to where the federal government became too powerful, too big and too unwieldy. That’s why he put Article V in,” Coburn told The Hill in an interview.
As that article from The Hill notes, Coburn is making an important distinction between an Article V convention and a brand new Constitutional convention. The latter – assuming we can figure out exactly how that would be legally triggered and constructed – would offer the option of essentially scrapping the existing constitution, getting a clean sheet of paper and writing a new one from scratch. The Article V version would follow the rules as currently set forth.
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.
The other facet of an Article V convention which I’ve seen a little confusion about on Twitter today is the apparent fear that the convention could essentially do whatever it wanted (assuming the votes were available) and march out to tell everyone how things were going to be. Not so in this case. The convention could propose as many amendments as they like, but each would still require ratification by 3/4 of the states. I would also note that the chances of this happening still strike me as low, since whichever ideological group is on the shorter end of having three quarters of the state legislatures is going to fight this tooth and nail.
But what I’m more curious about – if this actually were to come to pass – is the type of amendments which could garner the needed votes at the convention to make it out the door. And that would depend on the current makeup of the various state legislatures. The big, Democrat states wouldn’t have any sort of outsized voice in the process, since they would get the same vote as Wyoming on each proposal. The Democrats would obviously like to ram through some campaign finance restrictions to undue Citizens United, and perhaps some to cement entitlement programs in untouchable status. Conservatives will look at things to curb Executive branch power, force a more balanced budget, and perhaps restructure the tax code into a flatter shape. Maybe knock that pesky first phrase off the Second Amendment about militias just to eliminate confusion? I’m really not sure. What do you suppose will be put on the table if this were to actually happen, and what would have a chance of making it through?