Last week, one of the most significant events in our constitutional republic since 1787 occurred: Delegations of primarily state legislators from all 50 states gathered in Colonial Williamsburg with the intent to reign in the federal government’s abuse of power.
While the talking heads in Washington repeated the Trump vs. Clinton debates we’ve heard since this time last year, 137 delegates representing each and every state in America quietly convened in a simulation that would effectively strip Washington of its power overnight. Legally.
How is this happening?
Article V of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and we’re all familiar with that process. Its happened 27 times in our nation’s history and it’s how we’ve done some important things like guaranteed women’s right to vote. But Article V also grants the same power to the states to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and that power just hasn’t been exercised in American history — yet.
The U.S. Constitution is simply a grant of specific, limited powers to the federal government to operate to preserve and protect individual rights and act to promote the “general welfare.” But the Founders brilliantly recognized that the federal government might overstep and abuse those powers, and that it is highly unlikely Congress would then act to restrain itself. So, the Founders also gave the states the power to convene together and propose amendments to the Constitution to restrain federal abuses, in what Article V calls a “convention” of the states.
Article V reads:
“The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states…”
In other words, two-thirds (34) of the states pass an application through each state legislature calling for a convention to propose amendments, then the states convene their delegates, and whatever amendments are passed out of that convention by the states must be ratified by the same process as any congressional amendments.
It’s a simple and effective legal mechanism to check federal power hidden in plain sight in the U.S. Constitution.
This “Convention of States” was given a trial-run simulation last week in Colonial Williamsburg, Sept. 21-23, and every single state sent delegates. The simulated Convention passed significant amendment proposals on the following six ideas:
1. Requiring the states to approve any increase in the national debt
2. Term limits on Congress (effective retroactively)
3. Limiting federal overreach by returning the Commerce Clause to its original meaning
4. Limiting the power of federal regulations by giving an easy congressional override
5. Require a super majority for federal taxes and repeal the 16th Amendment
6. Give the states (by a three-fifths vote) the power to abrogate any federal law, regulation, or executive order.
Other amendment proposals were discussed and debated, including term limits on the Supreme Court and the ability of the states to vacate a Supreme Court opinion. The simulation only lasted two days, but the real Convention of States would have sufficient time to consider amendments and carefully craft the text.
Importantly, the Convention does not have power (just like Congress does not have power) under Article V to rewrite or completely overhaul the U.S. Constitution, or propose amendments beyond the scope of the application passed through each state legislature. Two of the nation’s foremost constitutional attorneys have written extensively on the procedural safeguards of a Convention of States and this simulation showed exactly how and why it will work as the check on federal government exactly as intended.
Michael Farris, co-founder of the Convention of States Project said of the simulation, ”The events at Williamsburg will be remembered as a turning point in history. The spirit of liberty and self government has been reignited.”
This is the Founders’ solution to Washington’s corruption, and the states are rallying. Going in to the 2017 legislative sessions, eight states have passed the Convention of States application and another 30 states considered it.
Millennials need to pay attention to the states and the Convention of States Project. We may feel horribly frustrated at the national-level politics and parties for one of dozens of reasons. But we have one incredibly important reason to still be hopeful for preservation of liberty—at the state level, the Convention of States can and will happen. We can and should get involved in our states and help lobby our legislators to pass the application for a convention.
The future of our country isn’t resting solely on the results in November. There is a much bigger and better solution that is found in the U.S. Constitution itself — in Article V.