While the ranks of convention supporters are dominated by Republicans, the call for a constitutional convention has strong bipartisan opposition in state legislatures, including many states controlled by Republicans.
In Arizona, where the Republican Party controls both chambers of the legislature, convention advocates have failed at passing a Convention of States or Balanced Budget Amendment resolution. Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs (R) is one of leading voices against an Article V convention. In 2015, Biggs authored The Con of the Con Con: The Case Against the States Amending the U.S. Constitution. In the book, he argues that an Article V convention is not as simple and safe as supporters claim. In a 2014 debate at the Scottsdale Tea Party, Biggs said:
If you think a convention cannot be hijacked, then why have I noticed that those who support a convention over the last five years have changed and began to try to buckle up so that it cannot be hijacked…When I hear people say that the Article V process is clearly defined and easy to get through, I get back to the point that Article V is not simply a single convention, it is an entire process...The Convention of States and Compact of States alter Article V language and argue that states must agree on an agenda. Agenda is nowhere mentioned in Article V. It is a self-directed conference, and it’s hard to imagine how they can limit it…The Article V folks think all our problems will be solved with a ConCon, with an amendment, but unless the people who are supposed to uphold the law follow the law, changing the law or increasing punishment will not work…I hear this a tool and there is no other way, but if you were in a life boat and found a tool that is a drill, do you begin drilling? No, you are looking for other tools…They [the ConCon advocates] cannot decide what amendments would be proposed.
In the Oklahoma House of Representatives, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 71-30, a 2015 resolution calling for a federal constitutional convention was voted down 42-56. State Rep. Mike Ritze (R) urged legislators to vote against the measure, saying “We are venturing on grounds that are uncertain; there are many who believe this would be a runaway convention.” State Rep. David Brumbaugh (R) raised concerns about the process of picking delegates to a convention.
The call for a constitutional convention has also met opposition from Republicans in Virginia, despite Jill Holtzman Vogel’s prominence as a state senator. “It’s like playing Russian roulette. We kind of think it would work out well. You put a bullet in one chamber, the odds of it working are pretty good. But the consequences of being wrong are immeasurable,” said Virginia Sen. Richard H. Black (R). In a 2014 floor speech opposing the convention measure, Virginia Del. Robert G. Marshall (R) said the Founding Fathers “did not spell out specific rules” for an Article V Convention. “This is something very fundamental that may alter the structure of government. There is no clear understanding how this would proceed and I urge a no vote on that.” The bill in the Republican-controlled Virginia House was ultimately voted down in February 2014, 67-29.
Republican reservations about a constitutional convention extend to the national party. The Republican National Committee adopted a resolution in 2012 declaring that it “strongly opposes the convening of a convention for the purpose of proposing amendments to the Constitution of the United States for the reason that the risk of loss far exceeds the possibility of gain from such an uncontrolled and uncontrollable proceeding.” Similar resolutions have been passed by the Texas State Republican Executive Committee, which calls for rescinding “any and all existing calls for a Constitutional Convention.” The Constitution Party National Committee is also opposed to calling a convention.
Democrats have voiced similar reservations, something of a rarity in today’s hyper-partisan political atmosphere. When Montana was considering a balanced budget amendment resolution, Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso (D) said that “this is an agenda pushed by out-of-state groups who are not looking out for the best interests of Montana. Montana will have no control over how the process would look or who would represent us. A balanced budget amendment could have disastrous consequences for jobs and our economy. This is a terrible idea for our state and our country.”
Democratic legislators in Virginia have tried using humor to derail convention proponents in their state. “Every nut job in America would be at that convention. It would not be any Jeffersons or Madisons,” said Virginia Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw. Virginia Del. Mark Sickles also joked about the proposal while making a serious point about the dangers that would accompany it. “I’m against it, but if we have one, I want to be a delegate,” he said. “There’s a lot of problems with this Constitution. I’ll just get up to this convention and start whacking away.”
Among advocacy groups, Article V convention opposition spans the political spectrum. On the right, the John Birch Society, Concerned Women of America, the Eagle Forum, and the National Rifle Association, which adopted a resolution against an Article V convention in April 1992, all have spoken out. The Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity has also expressed reservations. When the Texas legislature considered a convention balanced budget amendment resolution in 2011, AFP-Texas stated, “We at AFP support a balanced budget at all levels of government but believe that a constitutional convention which would allow other items to be addressed would be problematic.”
Other groups opposed to an Article V constitutional convention include American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the AFL-CIO, and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). And since the 1970s, reproductive rights groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America have also opposed calls for an Article V Constitutional Convention to outlaw abortion.
Campaign finance reform groups have also rejected the idea that a constitutional convention is the right strategy to enact money in politics reform. A 2015 statement signed by the Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, Democracy 21, Issue One, People for the American Way, Public Citizen, and USAction warns that well-financed special interests could dominate the convention process. The letter argues that “to put it simply, we would be unleashing the opportunity for a wholesale rewrite of the founding Constitution of our country with no limit on the issues to be considered and no idea about how the process for doing this would work and how decisions would be made. To call a constitutional convention would imperil the work of our Founding Fathers and the more than 200 years of constitutional history that followed.”
Fred Wertheimer, who The New York Times has called “the dean of campaign finance reformers,” has said the call for an Article V constitutional convention “is by far the most dangerous thing in the country today. If we ever got [to a convention], this would create a constitutional crisis unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes.”
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