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Sat, Jun

Constitutional Convention: A Right-Wing Fever Dream Would Destroy This Nation Once and for All

VOICES

CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION - One of the right’s favorite fever dreams over the years has been to gut the US Constitution of many of its checks and balances and officially turn America into a legal oligarchy with a strongman presidency, nearly bulletproof legal immunity for the morbidly rich, and full personhood for corporations.

As of this month, it’s no longer just a dream.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) completed their winter “National Policy Summit” get-together in Scottsdale, Arizona last week with Speaker Mike Johnson as its keynote speaker. This is the group that’s brought “Stand Your Ground” and voter suppression “model legislation” to Red states across America and, for fifty years now, has been bringing together corporate lobbyists and Republican state-level politicians to make state after state more corporate- and billionaire-friendly.

If their plan works, these Republican toadies of the billionaires who fund and own them will rewrite our Constitution and state governors, the US Congress, and the President will have no say whatsoever in the process.

At this recent meeting they rolled out a new strategy to convene a Constitutional Convention, so they can finally remake America in their own image: they’re going to try to get the six corrupt Republicans on the Supreme Court — who all have direct or indirect ties back to ALEC, its related/affiliated organizations, and/or its funders — to go along with it.

Former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold (now a professor of law and president of the American Constitution Society) is not prone to hyperbole; he’s always been a thoughtful and measured speaker and writer. So, it’s worth taking him seriously when he recently said of MAGA Mike Johnson:

“It is alarming to have a speaker of the House who supports the extremist Convention of States movement, which is striving to radically rewrite the U.S. Constitution.”

Please consider the horrifying possibilities.

  • Imagine if most public schools in the country closed and were replaced by for-profit charter and private academies — often racially segregated and only serving families who could afford their tuition — because the Constitution forbade state-level compulsory education laws and taxpayer funding for education (at all levels).
  • Imagine if the U.S. Constitution required the EPA, FDA, USDA, DOT, Department of Education, and Department of Labor to shut down. All union protections are dead, there are no more federal workplace safety standards, and even child-labor laws are struck down, along with an end to the national minimum wage and the income tax, both individual and corporate.
  • Imagine that the new billionaire-written Constitution makes it illegal for the federal government to protect you from big polluters, big banks, and even big food and pharma — all are free to rip you off or poison you all they want, and your only remedy is in state courts and legislatures — because the Constitution now prevents Congress from doing anything about any of it. The federal government can no longer even enforce voting or civil rights laws.
  • Imagine if Citizens United and its position that political bribery is merely a First Amendment exercise of “free speech” were put into the US Constitution so it can never be overturned by Congress or a future court, meaning that whichever political candidates have the backing of the wealthiest donors pretty much win every election for the rest of American history.
  • Imagine if the free and independent press protections of the First Amendment are gone and, like in today’s Hungary and Russia, politicians can sue anybody who writes anything about them for defamation or slander, effectively putting any kind of opposition media or even honest news operations out of business.
  • Imagine, to add injury to insult, that the federal government has shut down Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, because all of these programs (along with food stamps, Pell grants, housing supports, and any programs that help the middle class, the less fortunate, or disabled) are “beyond the reach” of what the federal government can do because they’re now unconstitutional.

Morbidly rich billionaires and the groups they fund are working to rewrite our Constitution to do all this and more. 

They want to provide corporations and the rich with more and more protections and benefits while chopping away at anything smelling of “socialism” like Social Security, child labor laws, or inheritance, income, and wealth taxes.

The Constitution provides for three ways to change or amend itself. The first is that Congress can propose a constitutional amendment, pass it with a supermajority in both houses, and have three-quarters of the states ratify it. This is the way it’s been done for every one of the existing 27 amendments.

The second strategy is done by using Article V of the Constitution and driving the process up from the states. The easiest way to do this is for three-quarters of the states to legislatively approve (with simple majority votes in the legislatures of each state) an amendment, in which case Congress is unnecessary and upon ratification by the 38th state, it becomes a permanent amendment to the Constitution.

While this strategy has never been used, it’s one process many of the good-government groups like Move To Amend and Public Citizen are pushing for a “Corporations are not people, and money is not speech” amendment to reverse Citizens United.

The third — and incredibly dangerous — strategy to amend the Constitution is to simply call a “Convention of the States,” again using Article V, and open the entire document itself up to rewriting and tinkering. 

This third strategy is the one ALEC was pushing this month. If they can pull it off in the states (where it’s cheaper to buy politicians), then Congress, state governors, the president, and even the courts would have no say over it. And ALEC has spent the past 50 years becoming a major — some would say controlling — factor in Republican-controlled state legislatures.

Their barrier has been that it takes 34 states to call for a convention, and there have never been that many states calling call for one at the same time since the founding of our republic. However, as was pointed out at ALEC last week, every state except Hawaii has — at one time or another, starting with Virginia in 1788 — passed a resolution proposing a constitutional convention (there have been 400 such resolutions since the founding of our nation).

While most of history’s resolutions for a convention have been specific to one issue or another (New York’s 1789 resolution called for a Bill of Rights to be added to the Constitution, for example, something that Congress and the states did in 1791), a half-dozen were simply calls for a convention without specifics. These are sometimes referred to as “generic” convention resolutions.

The theory pushed at ALEC, first rolled out three years ago at an ALEC workshop by conservative activist David Biddulph but now apparently fully endorsed, is to combine the existing 28 Red state resolutions along with the six “generic” ones (going all the way back to 1789) to hit the magic number of 34 states to open the convention.

The key to the strategy is to get it before the Supreme Court and let the billionaire-owned Republican justices do ALEC’s work for it by ruling that those old resolutions are still valid, even though the people who proposed and passed them are all long dead. 

Utah Republican State Rep. Ken Ivory told ALEC lawmakers it was imperative to get the issue before the Supreme Court:

“Please join us in the state of Utah as we look into the legal mechanisms that we have under the Constitution… to [get the Court to] declare that Congress must count the [old] applications. … And if, as we believe, we’ve already achieved 34 applications to Congress for a fiscal responsibility convention, call [it]… and hold a Convention of States.”

If their plan works, these Republican toadies of the billionaires who fund and own them will rewrite our Constitution and state governors, the US Congress, and the President will have no say whatsoever in the process. Only state legislatures are necessary for rewriting the Constitution and then ratifying their own work, according to Article V of the Constitution, and governors can’t veto their actions. 

Much like the many cases that have suddenly burst onto the scene and then been used by the six corrupt Republicans on the Court to alter American law and take away citizens’ rights, this one could move quickly. Now that the ALEC meeting is over, expect to see states begin putting together the lawsuits or other legal actions necessary to get this proposal before the Court.

Alexander Hamilton was prescient: in the last sentence of Federalist 85, he warns us of efforts to re-write or replace our Constitution:

“I dread the more the consequences of new attempts, because I know that powerful individuals, in this and in other States, are enemies to a general national government in every possible shape.”

Common Cause and the Center for Media and Democracy have been at the forefront of sounding the alarm and I’ve hot-linked their names to their most recent articles about the work they’re doing to try to stop the billionaire machine devoted to rewriting our Constitution.

Please check them out, get on their mailing lists, and spread the word. This is one of those things that Republicans on the Court could use to seemingly spring out of nowhere and bring down our democracy once and for all.

(Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and the author of "The Hidden History of Monopolies: How Big Business Destroyed the American Dream" (2020); "The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America" (2019); and more than 25 other books in print. This article was reprinted from CommonDreams.org.)