It’s time. The United States Constitution, in Article V, has a clause describing a Constitutional Convention which the states may invoke with 3/4 of the State Legislatures requesting it. It is a safety valve for an out of control federal government, and the time to pull that valve is now.

The constitutional convention is initiated by the States as a petition to Congress to call a convention for voting on proposed amendments to the Constitution. If you are not familiar with it, watch this video for a summary.

So what Amendments should be proposed to the Convention? There are several key ones which need to go first:

First: Prohibit Congress and the Senate from passing laws, to which they are exempt or otherwise unaccountable to.

This is one which is badly needed. There is strong precedent for this: the Magna Carta of 1215. This document has an interesting history, but it is the basis of legal principals we take for granted today like “habeas corpus”. It was also a motivation for the American revolution: King George was passing laws targeted at the colonists, which did not apply to him or his government. As much as people love or hate the Affordable (ha!) Healthcare Act, the fact remains that members of the Senate and House of Representatives members have their own healthcare plan separate from it.  And there are plenty of other things which Congress passes and isolates itself from.

This is elected officials creating an unaccountable class for themselves, which makes them less in contact and responsive to real needs of people.  This we have witnessed for generations, and it is time to pull them out of their bubble of isolation.  We pay the penalty when they get stuck in it, unaware.

The precedent set by the Magna Carta is the King is bound to his own laws. Even Jesus is bound to his own laws.

Second: As the office of the President and Vice-President currently has from the 22nd Amendment, impose term-limits on members of Congress.

The value of this can only be seen in light of lobbyist money, which enables entrenchment by long-term (sell-out) Senators and Representatives.  It also addresses an ugly reality of the governed: they get too comfortable with the incumbent (fear of change), exacerbating the problem.  As the first proposal above says, Congress has a bad habit of exempting itself from laws it passes.  So it should not be a surprise that the 22nd Amendment targeted the President and Vice-President positions, but changed nothing about unlimited Congressional term lengths.

Third: Explicitly declare that corporations or other legal entities are not to be interpreted as individuals, when determining the rights of individuals as described in the Constitution.

This resulted from a horrible decision by the Supreme Court.  It has been used by companies to sway its employees into supporting causes which they would not, and has been abused by companies like Verizon to declare that Net Neutrality violates their free speech (at the expense of everyone else’s free speech).  Most people who protest on the street accuse American corporations of having undue influence on politics.  This ruling is one of the primary reasons it has become so bad.

I recommend reading this NPR article on the Supreme Court decision which describes how the scales tipped way too far in favor of corporations and opened the door for abuse.

A side note: An organization was formed out of the Occupy Wall Street movement called the Wolf PAC, which has advocated prohibiting outside campaign contributions other than publicly provided funding for campaigning.  It’s a good idea, even a great idea… but a word to the people in that movement.  Good ideas can easily get diluted and lost, when people see the narcissism, disrespect, insensitivity and ultimately… the physical mess and squall you leave behind spreading your message.

Fourth: Require a timely vote of 2/3 of the State Legislatures to approve an annual Federal budget which has a deficit.

This restraint has become critical. There is an argument that deficits are sometimes needed (especially during times of war), but the almost $20 trillion deficit has put the US economy in a dangerous position. Budget matters shouldn’t just be a tug of war between Congress and the President.  The States need to have the ability to say no, and have that be the final say.

Fifth: Don’t allow verbiage regarding a time-limit to be contained in an Amendment for its ratification, and also provide a way for the States to rescind an Amendment which has not been ratified after a certain number of years–regardless of whether Congress or the States at a convention passed the proposed Amendment.

The value of this takes a little explanation.  The Equal Rights Amendment, which was passed by Congress in 1972 and forwarded to the States for ratification, contained a line item in it which required it to be ratified by the States within seven years.  Even after voting for an extension of time to ratify it, it still failed to be ratified.  My question is why the time limit was imposed in the first place?

Now let’s look at what became the 27th Amendment in 1992.  The Bill of Rights is what we refer to as the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution.  But what many people don’t know is that 12 amendments were originally approved and forwarded to the States for ratification.  Up until 1991, those extra two Amendments were in a non-ratified limbo.  One was related to stricter redistricting rules for Congressional districts, and the other applied a restriction to Congress collecting a pay increase for itself (since they vote on their own pay increase).

And the catalyst for the 27th Amendment: In 1991, Congress pulled its usual sneaky trick of quickly and quietly voting itself a large pay increase just before its Christmas break, at a time when the US economy was struggling.  This time, it backfired on them publicly in a big way.  People were so outraged, it motivated the states to move towards ratifying the latter of those two non-ratified Amendments… now the 27th Amendment.  Basically what the Amendment says is: “Congress, if you want to vote yourself a pay raise, go right ahead… you’ll just have to survive the next election to collect it.”  Instantly, some balance to power was restored.

A side note: If you have a souvenir parchment of the original Bill Of Rights, sold in places like the national archives and the Liberty Bell display, odds are it is the full 12 proposed amendments on it.  The two (at that time) un-ratified amendments are #1 and #2 on the document.

This Amendment was in limbo for 202 years.  And it solved a problem 202 years later, which couldn’t be solved without calling a Constitutional Convention.  Congress was certainly not going to pass a law which denied itself more money, right?

So what has this got to do with the Equal Rights Amendment? Simply put, there was a lot of resistance to it at the time because of its broad scope.  Would it have eventually passed?  Who knows.  Maybe it needed different verbiage to pass, or something else.  But I see the 7-year time limit for ratification (or any time limit) as a problem.  If a time limit had been imposed on the now 27th Amendment, we would not have had a quick fix to a problem that has grown over the decades.  Our founding fathers had, indeed, provided a solution to the problem they foresaw even 200 years ago.

Basically, the time limit suppresses the value of an Amendment in terms of “an idea ahead of its time”.  The Equal Rights Amendment may have been one of those (wait another few decades to know for sure).  By not limiting the time for an Amendment  to be ratified, and providing a way to explicitly revoke a proposed Amendment, we gain two things.  An idea ahead of its time is protected, while an amendment which becomes potentially dangerous and flawed over time can still be taken off the table.

So What Else Should Be Made An Amendment?

That’s a good question.  One that I think should be considered is returning the vote of state senators to the State Legislatures in their own state, which is who they are supposed to represent.  But, as any historian can tell you, the vote was originally changed by an amendment to a popular vote because of abuse.  So the pendulum would have to swing pretty far the other way to change it back.  It may not be quite there, but it is close.

The best lesson about constitutional amendments (and the constitution itself) is to remember two things:

  • A Constitution is focused on establishing structure and scope of authority, with only the amount of procedure necessary described in it.
  • It’s not the place for social issues (as the 18th amendment and 21st amendment clearly demonstrate).

Net Neutrality was for me, the final straw.  If you really want to take back America, which all sides do, the Constitutional Convention is the RIGHT step.  The only abuses we have in Government are the ones we have allowed.