I wrote an editorial last week in favor of Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long's resolution calling for a national constitutional convention to define limits on the commerce and taxing powers of Congress:
States’ rights, Long says, might disappear altogether. This is a way to keep it from happening “with a process that is legal, that is constitutional and that, if done correctly, will be effective.”
But couldn’t convention members, once assembled, do anything they wanted to no matter how the resolution limited them? Certainly they could come up with some silly changes, perhaps even dangerous ones. But anything coming out of the convention would have to be approved by a majority of voters of 38 states. Are we to trust Americans with everything about their republic except what’s in its guiding document?
This is more of a long shot than a dangerous idea. The biggest risk is that it will be a waste of time. But nothing else has come close to taming the federal behemoth, so heaven knows it’s worth the effort. At least we’ll keep talking about the issue.
Mine seems to be the minority opinion, however. Here's the Lafayette Journal & Courier, for example:
But Long was still feeling the heat from tea party members in the state who were upset when the Senate president scuttled efforts to push a bill that called for nullification of laws deemed unconstitutional not by the courts but by the state legislature. Early in the session, Long set that aside out of concerns that it was unconstitutional.
So as tea party pressure mounted, the constitutional convention resolution offered some nice cover for Long without much of a threat that Indiana would have to make good on forcing the issue.
And here's the Indianapolis Star's Matthew Tully:
Apparently, as the first half of the state legislative session was concluding this week, the Indiana Senate wanted to do one last thing to solidify its standing as the nutty chamber.
And, so, the Senate passed a resolution Tuesday calling for a U.S. Constitutional Convention, a revolt of sorts over the federal government’s alleged overreach on issues from health care to guns. Now, this would be as unprecedented as it is fantastical, but Senate President David Long hopes 33 other states will pass similar resolutions and force a rewrite of parts of the federal constitution.
Some days it’s hard to admit I’m a Hoosier. Those days are much more frequent when the state legislature is in session and when senators are given a platform to, say, obsess over cursive writing or the proper singing of the national anthem.
Whew. Little strong there -- the "nutty chamber." The two chief objections to Long's proposal seem to be contradictory. 1.) This has no chance in hell of passing, and Long knows it, so it's just a move to safe face with those kooky tea party extremists. 2. This is a really terrible idea because who knows what convention members will come up with when they're unleashed?
The idea that we can't exactly know how a constitutional convention would unfold is a valid concern since we haven't had one since the first one. But this would be a democratic process just like all the other ones we've had -- nothing happens unless two-thirds of the states call for it, and nothing coming out of the convention matters unless three-quarters of the states approve it. Would this democratic process be more likely to attract the nuts and zealots than any of the otehrs we've had?
That's why we have the ballot box.