This is how American democracy dies: State Republicans’ plan to rip up the Constitution

american star

Jul 6, 2017

Early in our nation’s history, our founders met with the goal of reforming America’s fledgling government. In 1787, they called a convention — for the express, limited purpose of proposing changes to the Articles of Confederation, our nation’s primary governing document.

Delegates to that convention promptly drew the shutters, locked the doors, and set about rewriting our entire system of government. It was in this first convention that our Constitution was conceived and precedents for American laws and values were set.

However, what many Americans don’t know is that the same thing could happen again today —  only instead of George Washington and James Madison writing our new Constitution, it would be Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell setting the ground rules. Even scarier is how close Republican state legislators are to making this a reality.

How could this happen today?

legislation article

The constitutional convention process is outlined in Article V of the U.S. Constitution, which allows for a convention at the request of ⅔ of state legislatures (34 states). Right now,

Republicans have control of 32 state legislatures. Republicans only need TWO MORE states to get to 34, at which point they could decide at any moment to unilaterally change the entire Constitution behind closed doors.
gop legislation

Why do Republicans want a convention?

The Constitution says very little about how a convention would operate, which is why a convention today would be so dangerous: Republican controlled legislatures would have the power to decide who is represented at the convention, how they are chosen, and what is on the agenda. But, as soon as the convention is called, the agenda can be immediately changed by the delegates themselves. This means that once a convention is called, delegates would no longer be responsible to the American people.

In June, the Wisconsin Assembly voted to call for a constitutional convention: “It’s not just about a balanced budget,” saidWisconsin Democratic Rep. Chris Taylor . “Mostly I think they are going at the social safety net, they are going to go after Social Security and Medicare because it’s so unpopular to cut those programs, and this is how they do it.”

For years, Republicans have been pushing for a constitutional convention to require the federal government to balance the budget. However, once the convention is called, Republicans will be able to hijack the convention to destroy Congress’ ability to fund safety net programs like Social Security and Medicaid and reverse Supreme Court rulings on reproductive rights, racial justice, and marriage equality. These pillars of democracy, vital to equal opportunity and equality, are in jeopardy.

As Marco Rubio put it, “this is a systematic effort to redefine America.”

What happens after the convention?
gop convention agenda

The fallout of a Republican-dominated convention would continue with the publishing of its proposals. Three-quarters of state legislatures must vote to ratify the convention’s amendments — but crucially, the states do not have to vote at the same time. Once officially proposed, constitutional amendments are live grenades: They can never be withdrawn.

This is how the 27th Amendment, which restricts Congress’ ability to change its own salary, was adopted. The first state ratified this amendment in 1789, but it was not until 202 years later that enough states ratified the amendment to incorporate it into the Constitution.

That means no matter how reckless or extreme the proposals are, Republicans have an infinite amount of time to whip votes, gerrymander seats, and force the passage of their dangerous agenda.

The bottom line:

We are scarily close to this nightmarish convention becoming a reality. If Republicans win just two more state legislatures, they could call a convention at any point. With Donald Trump in the White House, this possibility becomes even more threatening. And over the last few months, it’s become more than just a theoretical possibility.

State Republicans have already begun challenging Democratic seats in states they need to call a convention. In September, Republicans held a mock convention in Williamsburg, Virginia, to preview the agenda they would push (Surprise: it was a disaster for civil rights ). Conservativelegislation-factory American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and pro-business groups funded by the Kochs are pushing legislation calling for a constitutional convention in more than 30 states. And just a few weeks ago, Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly passed their bill calling for a convention . Similar measures passed in Missouri and Texas this past May.

So where do we go from here?

Now more than ever, we must focus on state level elections. Democratic legislators are doing their best to guard against these bills as they come up in statehouses nationwide, and set the story straight on how damaging a constitutional convention would be for our democracy.

Unfortunately, they can only do so much if they’re not in the majority. State Democrats have already tallied multiple legislative special election victories since Trump’s inauguration, and DLCC is ready to build on this momentum ahead of crucial elections in Washington, Florida, and Virginia. By expanding Democratic strength in statehouses nationwide, Democrats can protect our democracy and build on the progress we have made since the first constitutional convention in 1787.

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