8. A CONSTITUTI0NAL CONVENTION -- HISTORY REPEATS
During the four months the Federal Convention met in
the summer of 1787 deliberating on the greatest news story in American history,
not one word was reported in the 75 American newspapers. Americans in the new
republic faced huge war debts, worthless paper money, an immense trade balance,
and a crumbling security with Americans held hostage in the Mediterranean area
by Algerian pirates. Politicians faced repercussions from Shaw's rebellion against
land foreclosures in Massachusetts and realized a need for stronger government.
are correlations between those events and circumstances today. Today, as in 1787,
the nation's press is remiss in reporting on a controversial effort to redefine
our nation's Constitution: there is a dedicated effort underway to call a constitutional
convention to amend the nation's Constitution. The Constitution requires two-thirds
(34) of the states to call for such a convention before the country may hold one
to consider amending the Constitution.
As of now, 32 states have called
for such a convention -- we are just two states away from holding a constitutional
Some of those seeking the convention want to add "urgently
needed ... popular" constitutional changes, like balancing the federal budget,
requiring voluntary prayer in public schools, and restricting abortions. Others
want to add women's rights to the Constitution, make Senate and House terms longer,
abolish the Electoral College in selecting a president, limit terms for Supreme
Court justices, and restrict the rights of the accused. While some changes may
be worthy, we already have proven ways to get them into the Constitution.
to the convention are concerned since there are no legal bounds as to what such
a convention could do. Indeed, many have been opposed to an open-ended call for
such a convention because it could become a runaway event in which every crackpot
suggestion for constitutional change would be permitted.
view that a constitutional convention potentially threatens the Bill of Rights,
state's rights, and Congress itself, is the recommendation that the convention
could be limited to a specific issues, such as the proposed requirement for a
balanced budget. But there is no guarantee that such a limitation would stand
up under the pressures of a convention; there probably would be constant calls
for broadening the discussion.
In the past, the mere threat of a constitutional
convention has been impetus enough to get a recalcitrant Congress to act. The
17th Amendment, providing for direct election of Senators, was proposed by Congress
after 30 states petitioned for a convention to make the change. In the early 1970s,
the threat of a petition drive by some governors persuaded Congress to enact revenue
The National Taxpayers Union, the conservative lobby
behind the current push for a constitutional convention, acknowledges that the
drive is essentially part of a strategy to force Congress to draft its own budget
amendment. Whether that happens or not, at the very least the American people
should be aware that we are just two states away from a constitutional convention
that could significantly change the political system we have had for the past
THE ECONOMIST, 5/21/88, "The Constitution:
Lid on to keep the worms out," pp 28-29; USA TODAY, 3/3/89, "DEBATE:
We shouldn't tinker with Constitution," p 8A.