Matt Rothschild
Op Ed

Say No To a Constitutional Convention

Legislators pushing for this again. Why it's a bad idea

By - Mar 4th, 2021 11:42 am
"We the People" inscription on the Front of the National Constitution Center. Photo by Housefinch1787, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

“We the People” inscription on the Front of the National Constitution Center. Photo by Housefinch1787, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The testimony below was given by Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Executive Director Matthew Rothschild before the Assembly Committee on Constitution and Ethics on Wednesday in opposition to Joint Resolution 9 calling for an Article V convention of the states. Rep. Chuck Wichgers (R-Muskego) chairs the committee.

Chair Wichgers and members of the committee,

My name is Matt Rothschild, and I’m the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group that’s been around since 1995. We track and expose big money and dark money in our politics, and we advocate for clean and transparent government and a democracy where everyone has an equal voice.

We strongly oppose this joint resolution. It is overly vague and broad, and it would invite a wholesale rewrite of our founding document, thus jeopardizing our fundamental rights.

The vagueness, and the broadness, of the joint resolution is obvious in the following places: At the very top, it says “Relating to: convention of the States for one or more Constitutional amendments.” “One or more?” We don’t even know how many amendments the Convention would be considering!

Toward the end of the whereas clauses, it says, “Whereas, the federal government has ceased to live under a proper interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.” Now, that’s a sweeping claim if ever I heard one, and what exactly is the “proper interpretation”? It’s not spelled out.

And then the last whereas clause says the purpose of the Convention of the States is for “restraining these and related abuses of power.” What “these abuses” are is unclear, except for a reference to the size of the national debt and to “unfunded mandates” — and what the “related abuses of power” are is anybody’s guess.

Then in the “Resolved” section of the Joint Resolution, it says the purpose of such a Convention of the States is to “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office.”

All three of those are vague:

What would those “fiscal restraints” be?

How would it “limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government”?

And what would the term limits be?

Please note that the second question really lets the horses out of the barn door. By calling a Convention of the States to “limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government,” you’ve invited a top-to-bottom redrafting of our Constitution because the entire Constitution deals with the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.

So you shouldn’t pretend that somehow this Convention of the States would somehow be self-limiting.

As to the proposed purpose to “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government,” let me simply point out that such fiscal handcuffing is economic idiocy and would risk imperiling our economy in times of a downturn. The only reliable medicine for bringing large economies like ours out of a recession is deficit spending. It’s like the economy has cancer and you won’t give it radiation or chemotherapy. It’s like the economy has diabetes, and you won’t give it insulin. You’ll just let the economy die.

Had “fiscal restraints” been in place in 1933, we would never have gotten out of the Great Depression or been able to win World War II. Had they been in place in 2009, we would never have gotten out of the Great Recession, which would have turned into another Great Depression, with millions more lives ruined.

At the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, let me note that we also don’t believe in term limits. We believe that the people should be able to decide for themselves who should represent them.

Let me also note that we are not categorically opposed to amending the Constitution. In fact, we strongly favor a constitutional amendment that would say, “Corporations aren’t persons, and money isn’t speech.” But we believe the Article V route for amending the Constitution is a reckless one.

We believe the Constitution should be amended the old-fashioned way, by having Congress pass, by a two-thirds margin in the House and the Senate, any legislation to amend it, and that three-quarters of the state legislatures must approve it. This is a cleaner, safer way to go about the amendment process.

Once you go down the Article V route, there is no telling what the delegates might tamper with, including our fundamental freedoms as described in the Bill of Rights and successive amendments to the Constitution.

This concern for protecting our cherished rights that are enshrined in the Constitution is why one of the most conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justices of the last century, Antonin Scalia, opposed the Article V route. Here’s what he said in 2014: “I certainly would not want a Constitutional Convention. Whoa! Who knows what would come out of it? … A Constitutional Convention is a horrible idea.”

It is surprising to me that so many conservatives are ignoring the prudent advice of one of their patron saints.

Thank you for hearing me out.

Matt Rothschild is the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Reprinted with permission of Wisconsin Examiner.

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