The General Assembly should rescind its previous calls for a national convention to restrain the size of government because of the great uncertainties that surround such a convention. A national convention is a “pound of cure” when the “ounce of prevention” of voting more wisely in elections could be all we need.
They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And a runaway federal government and the disregard of federalism are certainly in need of a cure. But this week the Tennessee General Assembly will have an opportunity to begin squeezing a pound of cure back into the proverbial tube. Let’s hope they’ll do it, and that we’ll then apply the necessary ounce of prevention.
The issue at hand is the calling of a federal constitutional convention. In the 1970’s and 1980’s Tennessee, along with a number of other states, adopted Resolutions calling for a federal constitutional convention. No doubt, the Resolutions were adopted in response to and out of frustration with the increasing size of the federal government and its unfunded mandates. With the passage of the national health care bill, that frustration has only intensified. But this time the intensity is being expressed not just by frustrated state lawmakers but also by the average citizen, as evidenced in part by the growing TEA Party movement.
No Limit to What a Convention Might Do to Our Constitution
In response to this well-intentioned enthusiasm to fight back and curb the federal government, some states are now looking at making a call for a federal constitutional convention. And right now, with Tennessee still being officially on record from years ago as having called for a constitutional convention, and with the passage of few more Resolutions by other states, the magic number of states required to call a national convention will be reached. Presto, the undefined and unrestrained machinery for a national federal constitutional convention will be put in motion. But as frustrated as conservatives can be, calling a constitutional convention is like applying a pound of cure when there is a means of prevention available to us, if we will use it.
The reason that a convention is a bad idea is that there is no limit to what a convention can do with our Constitution. We may think we’re calling it for one purpose, only to find out that the delegates have done something entirely different. In case you don’t think that can happen, then you’ve forgotten that our current Constitution was the product of a convention called by the states to only make suggested changes to the then-existing Articles of Confederation. The delegates were never authorized to scrap the Articles of Confederation, but they did and that is the national precedent for future action.
Not only is there no limit on what the convention could come up with, including a whole new proposed constitution, but we have no idea how the delegates will be determined. The U.S. Constitution does not specify how delegates are to be determined. But if the same kind of process is used to determine who will go to the convention for us as is used to give us activist judges, then Katie bar the door. We cannot assume that the same liberal groups that currently ignore our Constitution and control Congress won’t find some way to make sure they control the convention, too. We’d be naïve to think otherwise.
States’ Rights Made Even Worse?
It is of little comfort that some would respond by saying that a new constitution, if bad, would never be ratified by the requisite number of states. The reason that argument is of little consolation is that there is nothing to restrict the convention from setting up different ratification provisions. The Constitution we now have was ratified by a process contrary to that required by Articles of Confederation which the original 13 states were under. With some pushing for abolition of the Electoral College for a straight majority vote for President, who is to say that such people, if in control of the convention, would not move toward a populist approval process that ignores the sovereignty of the several states? In other words, the very states’ rights problems for which a convention would be called could actually be made worse.
For that reason, state Rep. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) has filed House Joint Resolution 30 to rescind all Resolutions adopted by previous General Assemblies that would call for a national federal constitutional convention. For once, with the passage of this resolution, the proverbial genie can be put back in the bottle.
The Real Solution: Vote Wisely and Vote Often
Of course, the question then is, “If we put back our ‘pound of cure,’ what is our remedy?” Actually, not unlike Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, we’ve had the remedy all along, but we have failed to apply it faithfully. It’s the “ounce of prevention” called elections. As we go to the polls in August to pick our party nominees for the November election and then as we go to the polls in November, each state can apply its own “ounce of prevention” by sending to Congress representatives whose first question is always, “Is the proposed law in question clearly constitutional?” and if so, whose second question is, “Does it respect the sovereignty of the several states, and is it a matter best left to those more closely situated to the people?” On many issues the one-size-fits-all federal government solution does not, in fact, fit all.
If we, along with the number of states required to call a national constitutional convention, will do just that—vote wisely—the specter of applying an untested pound of cure may not be needed.