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Black Women and the Blue Wave: Using our Power to Quash a Constitutional Convention

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Last week, we talked about the important role state legislators and local politicians play in our lives and made the case that participating in statewide elections is now more important than ever.  This week, we’re focused on another reason that we MUST make it to the polls and support democratic and progressive candidates this fall – halting a Convention of the States to rewrite the U.S. Constitution.

You might remember from your civics class that it takes two-thirds of federal legislators to begin the constitutional amendment process.  However, there is another way to permanently alter the Constitution. Article V of the U.S. Constitution gives states the power to call a Convention of States to propose amendments. It takes 34 states to call the convention and 38 to ratify any amendments that are proposed.  

We haven’t held a Convention of the States since 1797, but today there is a faction of very conservative politicians who, backed by money from the Koch brothers and other ultra-conservative billionaires, seek to do just this.  They claim that they want to “iron out a few things around taxes, balanced budgets, and government power.” But, as far as we know, even if it were called to deal with a single issue, a constitutional convention could become an unstructured free-for-all with myriad constitutional issues up for debate aka grabs!  

Hold up.  What’s an Amendment?

In the history of the U.S., Constitutional amendments are few and far between.  Below are a few amendments that have led to critical advancements in our democracy.

  • 15th Amendment, 1870: Black men got the right to vote so we’d have some measure of equality.
  • 19th Amendment, 1920: Women got the right to vote so we’d have another measure of equality.
  • 22nd Amendment, 1947: The U.S. Presidency was limited to two terms (or a maximum of 10 years under exigent circumstances) to avoid dictatorships!

So what could happen if there were a constitutional convention controlled by extremists of any stripe, including those in power right now?

Anything!

That’s right, the rights of ordinary citizens could easily be diminished, while the powers of the President, Congress, and the courts could fall farther out of balance.

It sounds extreme to talk about “losing rights” in 2018, but we know enough about history to know how easy it is to deprive people of their rights if we’re all distracted.

One of the leading proponents of a constitutional convention is Kris Kobach, the Secretary of State of Kansas and President Trump’s wingman on the Voter Fraud Commission.  Without providing any proof to support his statements, Kobach has claimed that millions of people voted illegally in the November 2016 election. His support for a convention is a sign that a Convention of the States is not in the best interests of people (like us!) who believe in fairness, freedom, liberty, and justice for all.

Not Everyone’s on Board

The good news is that not everyone’s on board with using a Convention of the States to rewrite the Constitution.  Even the late Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia, who was a conservative, thought that having a constitutional convention was a bad idea because it “could turn into a runaway train.” (More like a train wreck!)  

Bob Greenstein, President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has also cautioned that in an age of division, a constitutional convention is a bad idea for a country that wants to remain united.  We agree!  It is a terrible idea to have a constitutional convention when the inmates (currently in office!) are running the asylum.

“A dangerous proposal is circulating in states across the country that could widen political divisions and jeopardize cherished rights and freedoms. The push is coming primarily from well-organized, arch-conservative groups seeking to capitalize on the decline in public trust in government to limit the federal government’s role and spending powers. And the method they prefer is a constitutional convention – the first since the 1787 conclave that produced the U.S. Constitution.   

Under the Constitution, if two-thirds of state legislatures call for a convention to amend it, one must be convened. Some of those pushing for a convention say that 24 of the needed 34 [state] legislatures have approved such resolutions.”

Unfortunately, as of fall 2017, 28 states have voted to hold a constitutional convening.

Because of the far right’s growing power in the states and quest to get the votes for a constitutional convention, gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams (D-Georgia) and Ben Jealous (D-Maryland) have said that this year’s state elections are as consequential as any that we have seen in our lifetime. They are right!

Using our Power to Say, “No.”

The way to avoid a constitutional convention is to elect folks into office who will: 1) vote against or 2) vote to rescind votes for it.  In Maryland, Nevada, and New Mexico, progressives have already successfully lobbied state representatives to rescind state votes in support of a convention. Rescinding votes was only possible because representatives were in place who supported the people’s interests.

We hope you agree that electing representatives who support our interests at the local, state, and federal level is mission-critical to righting our political ship before it completely careens off course.

Want to keep learning more about the power of your vote?  Check back soon!  BlackHer is building a guide to the 2018 midterms just for you!

Angela

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