There will be no constitutional convention

In a letter to editors, Judy Stahl of Valley City urged the Legislature to reverse its call for a national constitutional convention. She worried that liberals would get control and make war on conservative policies and programs.

Omdahl COLUMN BOXIn a letter to editors, Judy Stahl of Valley City urged the Legislature to reverse its call for a national constitutional convention. She worried that liberals would get control and make war on conservative policies and programs.

Within a week, Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton proved Judy’s point by advocating a convention to overturn the Supreme Court decision that permitted unlimited anonymous contributions to political campaigns.

The last session of the Legislature entertained half a dozen proposals to curb the national government. Among them was one calling for a constitutional convention to propose a balanced budget amendment.

Conservatives and liberals are split over calling the first constitutional convention since 1787. In fact, both groups are so fractured that they can’t agree among themselves.

Too many people recollect what happened in 1787. The resolution passed by Congress called a convention “to be held for the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation…”

When the delegates arrived in Philadelphia, they disregarded Congress, junked the Articles, and created a 3-branch government vested with the “supreme law of the land.”  It was a runaway convention and has dampened enthusiasm for conventions ever since.

If all of the state calls for another convention were valid today, the drive for 34 states would be just two states short. But three of the 32 on record – Alabama, Florida and Louisiana – have had second thoughts and have rescinded their approval.

In any case, there is no need for alarm. Even if the balanced budget movement gets the required number of states, nothing is going to happen. Repeat:  nothing is going to happen.

While the Constitution requires a convention when called by 34 states, the movement will be bogged down in Congress. With a significant number of liberals and conservatives against a convention, the polarized Congress will not be able to answer many questions involved in calling a convention.

Here are just a few:

How many delegates would be large enough to be representative and small enough to be functional?

How would delegates be apportioned? By state? Or somehow based on 1-person, 1-vote?

Who would choose the delegates – legislatures or popular elections? Should Congress decide the method of selection or should that be left to each state legislature?

Should the scope of the convention be set by Congress or left to the convention? Most of the states calling for the convention think the subject could be limited to a balanced budget amendment. That’s what Congress thought when it called the last one.

If Congress tried to limit the convention, who would enforce this limitation if a convention exceeded this authority? The Congress? The Supreme Court?

How should the voting be conducted in the convention? In the original gathering, votes were cast one vote per state.  Would that be palatable in today’s populist environment?

What method should be prescribed for submitting the amendments to the people?  Should ratification be by the state legislatures, by special conventions, or by a national referendum?  The present Constitution was ratified by specially elected state conventions.

Any one of these questions would end up in months of wrangling.   But let’s be generous and assume that a convention was held and came up with something to be ratified.

Ratification by 38 states requires a massive nationwide consensus. Conservatives, Republicans, Independents, Democrats and interest groups would all have to agree on the amendments proposed.  The history of amendments adopted since 1787 proves the point.

So those who worry about a constitutional convention should worry more about the Legislature wasting its time on such fruitless ventures.

Lloyd Omdahl was the 34th Lt. Gov. of North Dakota under Gov. George Sinner. He has also worked as a professor of Political Science for the University of North Dakota. His column has been featured in newspapers in the state.







GAMES