Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Convention of States

H/T to Peter at Bayou Renaissance Man for getting me thinking of this today, with his mention of Angelo Codevilla's superb piece at Claremont, "After the Republic".  Angelo is the originator of the intellectual argument that America has devolved into a self-aware ruling class that detests the people they rule over (that would be you and me), whom he called the country class.  The original article is gone from American Spectator, but my article about it is here.

The piece at Claremont is really well-conceived and worth your time to read the whole thing.  Or go back to BRM's place (first link above) and read the excerpts there.  To borrow one paragraph that summarizes some of the problem:
In today’s America, a network of executive, judicial, bureaucratic, and social kinship channels bypasses the sovereignty of citizens. Our imperial regime, already in force, works on a simple principle: the president and the cronies who populate these channels may do whatever they like so long as the bureaucracy obeys and one third plus one of the Senate protects him from impeachment. If you are on the right side of that network, you can make up the rules as you go along, ignore or violate any number of laws, obfuscate or commit perjury about what you are doing (in the unlikely case they put you under oath), and be certain of your peers’ support. These cronies’ shared social and intellectual identity stems from the uniform education they have received in the universities. Because disdain for ordinary Americans is this ruling class's chief feature, its members can be equally certain that all will join in celebrating each, and in demonizing their respective opponents.
Like many of us, I had heard of the idea of an Article V Convention of the States many years ago.  I didn't like the idea at first, under the influence of someone I read who was of the opinion that once the constitution is opened, it will be destroyed.  Who has the time to take off months or a year to go wherever the convention is held and try to ride herd over it, other than the professional protestors we see everywhere?  The hard-left, George Soros minions who show up anywhere to protest and disrupt things for a few bucks and a box lunch would show up and capture the convention.  I've come to believe that outcome can be guarded against.  I think the bar is too high for anything they propose to be a guaranteed pass, for reasons I 'll get to soon.   

This Wednesday, while I was in the shop working on my CNC controller box, I listened to an hour interview with Mark Meckler, a national leader for the Convention of States, on The Glenn Beck Program.  (A radio hour, which comes down to under 30 minutes).  You may read about it and listen to the interview here (or on YouTube, if you prefer).
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.

- Article V, U.S. Constitution
The constitution states that 2/3 of the states may call a convention of the states, but only for the same amendment.  Let's say a third of the states call for a convention to ban guns, but another third call for a convention to limit Federal powers.  Since those would be different amendments, that fails the 2/3 count.  If 2/3 of the states called for a convention to replace the IRS with a flat tax and another amendment or two to throttle back the Federal ruling class, the congress is powerless to stop it.   Now 2/3 of the states have to agree with each other on the topics to be discussed, and if they come up with an amendment they agree on, 3/4 of the states need to ratify it!  That's a very high bar. 

A mock or practice convention was held last weekend in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Representatives from all 50 states were there, including 115 sitting state legislators and 22 others, such as retired, former state representatives, and others involved in this process.
The Convention delegates passed amendment proposals on the following six ideas:

1. Requiring the states to approve any increase in the national debt
2. Term limits on Congress
3. Limiting federal overreach by returning the Commerce Clause to its original meaning
4. Limiting the power of federal regulations by giving an easy congressional override
5. Require a super majority for federal taxes and repeal the 16th Amendment
6. Give the states (by a 3/5ths vote) the power to abrogate any federal law, regulation or executive order.
Over 80% of Americans support term limits on congress.  Over 70% of the American population thinks the government is too big and gets involved in too many things.  Over 50% think the Federal Government is illegitimate!  This is the escape clause written into the constitution for a time when the Federal Government is usurping too much power.

There's a long way to go.  Only eight states have agreed to a Convention of States so far, so 26 more are needed.  38 states are going to consider it in the coming year, which means 68% of those states need to pass a resolution before it can happen.

The way I see it, this is the only option in front of us that has the potential to restore the Republic in a peaceful transition.  I see really only two options: this road, and some sort of massive reset, probably involving millions of casualties.   There are many problems with that path, not the least of which is that we have no idea what we'll end up with.  If history is any guide, the most likely scenario would be a totalitarian dictator or strongman of some sort.  Only once in history has a revolution led to more freedoms for more people. 

EDITED 10/5/16 to Add:  Commenter Jim did the research and found Codevilla's original article, still at American Spectator,  America's Ruling Class and the Perils of Revolution.  I highly recommend reading both Codevilla pieces on the ruling class, as well as the other background information I referenced.

While I'm here, let me correct this paragraph.  I jumbled up what I was trying to say in this paragraph so badly it came out factually wrong. 
The constitution states that 2/3 of the states may call a convention of the states, but only for the same amendment.  Let's say a third of the states call for a convention to ban guns, but another third call for a convention to limit Federal powers.  Since those would be different amendments, that fails the 2/3 count.  If 2/3 of the states called for a convention to replace the IRS with a flat tax and another amendment or two to throttle back the Federal ruling class, the congress is powerless to stop it.   Now 2/3 of the states have to agree with each other on the topics to be discussed, and if they come up with an amendment they agree on, 3/4 of the states need to ratify it!  That's a very high bar. 
The states do not have to agree on what the convention will discuss prior to calling it.   However, it is still the case that 2/3 of the states have to agree on an amendment before it can be submitted, and then it has to be passed by 3/4 of the states.  It is still true that if the convention agrees on changes to the constitution, congress is powerless to stop it . 


  1. There is absolutely no good reason to have a Con Con of the states.
    There is NOTHING WRONG with the Constitution. The problems we see
    stem from the fact that 99% of government ignores the Constitution 99% of the time. A Con Con would ONLY serve to allow malignant agenda driven power mongers to gut the Bill of Rights. If you think the left and those in control would allow such an event to happen unless they were certain they could control it you don't fully understand the depth of power and control these people have. They can and have committed perjury on video and the nothing happens. Their power is nearly absolute. A Con Con would allow them to remove the few minor impediments that remain.

    1. Did you listen to the half hour audio? They talk about this a lot.

      The question is how to get the to obey the constitution; how to restore the bill of rights, which is virtually dead already. How do we reduce ruling by "pen and phone".

      I ask you: how?

    2. Frankly I dont think a Con Con, even if successful, would matter worth a damn. They dont follow it now, so why would they follow it after a con?

  2. I'm sorry, but I couldn't disagree more.

    1. They aren't honoring their oaths to the Constitution now, what makes you think that adding more words to it will suddenly make them change? It's Naive.

    2. They will interpret Article V in the way that benefits them. For instance, it doesn't specifically state who will be the representatives at the convention, or how they are selected. Rest assured that they will be selected by politicians to represent the political class.

    3. Article V DOES NOT say that a Convention can only consider amendments that were specified in the vote to have a convention. It states that the state votes to have a convention for the purpose of proposing amendments. Once the convention opens, everything is open for change. Rest assured that blue states would show up with a series of proposed amendments (written by Bloomberg, Soros, the CFR, UN, etc) that will be sold as feel-good, common-sense, and only fair. Each of these will increase govt power. Any of the govt-limiting measures will be swallowed up and disappear in the spin. And we the people will be powerless to stop it.

    4. Convention delegates, appointed by the state legislatures (and almost certainly will be a state party leader), will feel the lure of either federal money showered on the state, promises of federal appointments, or promises of fat-salaried private jobs post convention. They will vote as their masters want them to.

    5. All of the statist amendments that result from the convention will be happily approved by the needed 3/4 of the state legislatures, because they chose the representatives, and will reap the federal rewards promised. Your Govt-limiting amendments won't make it to a vote, or would fail to get 3/4 of the bought-and-paid-for state legislatures to approve any of them.

    A Constitutional convention would just be a massive sham. A veritable Christmas for the state politicians, who will be showered with federal money and power to do their bidding. The only losers would be the people, who would lose more of their rights, their property, and their freedom.

    Thinking that you can use the political process to reign in politicians and their masters is a lot like thinking that your vote counts in this election, or that professional wrestling isn't scripted.

    Don't I sound negative? Well, it IS that dire. The only things of which I am positive is that I am no longer feeding the beast in any meaningful way, I'm being as self-sufficient as possible, I'm reducing my dependence on the beast to as little as possible, and I'm trying to work with and take care of my neighbors.

  3. Anon at 11:16 makes several points, his #1 being the most critical, IMHO.

    It was reported that during a late WWII discussion between Churchill and Stalin about the restructuring of post-war Europe that Churchill suggested taking the Vatican's position into account; Stalin responded with the question "How many divisions does the Pope have?"

    Prescient, that. If, as one hopes, the Forces of Sweetness and Light achieve all that is possible at a Con Con to restore the Rightful Position Of We, The People, how, exactly, will those results be enforced? Bunnies, butterflies and afternoon tea are terrific things, but they do not portend in any way Following The Rules.

    I agree that revolutions rarely produce the desired result; ours was the beneficiary of Divine Providence or Damn Good Luck, probably a large share of both. I doubt we'd be so fortunate a second time. Unfortunately, paraphrasing Stalin, I'm afraid that if meaningful lasting results are to be achieved it will necessarily involve however many divisions We, The People can muster and manage to keep focused - and under adequate control - on the right prize.

    Given the vagaries and numerous failings of human nature, I suspect that is a challenge against which we will fall short, no matter which path is chosen. I'd hazard the guess that America will continue to exist, evolving into multiple smaller regions, each with somewhat different values of "America." There's been a century of great effort devoted to creating such societal divisions which will not easily be corrected.

  4. It seems to me that we are pretty much doomed. It is the natural human condition to be under the thumb of a tyrant or ruler of some kind. We're really a significant anomaly in history. The fact that the country has lasted this long is really quite surprising. I think most humans are too lazy or too stupid to rule themselves. I despair.

  5. As I said in the piece, I originally thought the way you guys do, but I've come to think the idea has merit. For one thing, it depends on politicians being lazy, cowardly and seeking their own best interest. They expect and are counting on politicians seeing the oncoming changes and wanting to take credit for it.

    No, the constitution doesn't say that all the states have to propose the same agenda for the convention, but it does say the amendments have to pass the convention by 2/3 of the delegates and be ratified by 3/4 of the country. If your argument is the Soros/Bloomberg/whoever minions are going to propose a bunch of amendments for more government power - of course they will and they still have to get them through those barriers. All it takes is 13 states to stop whatever they propose and I can't see the states allowing that. Need I remind you that alongside the Convention of States movement, there's a 10th Amendment movement to return more power to the states? The states are pretty damned fed up with the centralized power and aren't likely to vote for it. To me, it looks like the most likely outcome is that the convention does nothing.

    The minions can't ram through their ideas without breaking the laws of the convention and the constitution. Just how is that different from what they're doing now? So why would they need need a convention of the states? As of now, there appears to be no interest in a convention by the left. Everything I see is from the liberty side.

    The way I read what the four of you are saying, a powerful criminal gang has taken over the country and there's absolutely nothing that we can do. No matter what we try to do, it will be thwarted. Laws don't matter. So deal with it. That's kinda like "lie back and think of England".

    I'm not saying this is the answer. I'm saying there's a good enough chance that it's worth trying.

    And Chiefjaybob, sorry, but I can't agree with "most humans are too lazy or too stupid to rule themselves". That sounds more like what the left is always saying: that we need to be ruled by our intellectual superiors from the right schools.

  6. If we add more magic words to the magic parchment, maybe it will magically start working! Sounds like a pretty weak plan to me.

    There is nothing wrong with our constitution. There is only a lack of enforcement. Almost everything the Federal government is doing is clearly, explicitly prohibited by the plain language of the constitution, and everything the Federal government is doing has been found constitutional by the Federal courts. The entire constitution is being ignored or misconstrued today. Absent force to keep the government in its place, any additions to the constitution will also be ignored or misconstrued.

    If we enforce our current constitution, we will need no amendments. If we will not enforce our current constitution, we won't enforce the new amendments and no amendments will help the situation.

    Further, the insuperable barriers to abuse you find in Article V don't seem to be present in the version you quoted. Article V does not say that 2/3 of the states must call for the same amendments. Indeed, I can see no mechanism in Article V by which the states can limit what is considered by a convention once it is called. Finally, even if there were such limits, we have established that there is no enforcement of the constitution's limits on government. Who will enforce these limits you think you found? The same folks who are enforcing the rest of the constitution?

    Once the con-con has been hijacked by the left, the states will be presented with a smorgsbord of destructive liberal amendments that eliminate the bill of rights and all limits on government power. The leftist media will present them as modern, fair, wise, and necessary for the children. The conservstive state politicians, fearful of being called racist and eager to get to DC for the bigger graft available there, will fall all over themselves to ratify.

    The entire con-con concept boils down to magical thinking; a cargo-cult approach to governance. The form of government doesn't matter unless there is some power that can hold the government within that form. In the US today, we have no power that will hold the Federal government within its limits, and no magic words will change that, even if they are on magic parchment.

    In summary, with enforcement the whole problem we are trying to solve goes away, without enforcement, nothing changes, amendments or no, and a convention once begun can take any turn it wants, just as it did in 1787. The best case shows no upside, while the downside has a non-zero probablity. It's a sucker bet.

    We all want to do something quick and decisive which will fix the problem so we can go on about our business. No such solution exists. I propose that instead of chasing after feel-good, cargo-cult ideas like this, you work to get a governor and a state representative elected who are willing to stand up to the Federal government, by refusing funding, and by jailing Federal agents who interfere in the running of the state. If you can't do that, how do you think you are going to make this con-con work?

    1. I'm a different Anonymous.

      Enforcement against government misbehavior is simple. Organize millions to stop paying all taxes forever. Government workers stop receiving salaries, and find different jobs. No more government misbehavior.

      Monopolies produce bad service and high prices, and there is no exception to this rule for police, courts, armies, roads, electricity, water, sewer, telephone, etc. I speculate the actual reason many support government is because they want to use it to hurt people they are prejudiced against. Otherwise, they wouldn't object so much to abolishing government.

  7. America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution

    Link rot, wandering bits, whatev.

    73, Jim

    1. Cool! Thanks. By the time everyone sees this, I'll edit the article and add the link back in.