Right-Wing Push for Article V Constitutional Convention Threatens Basic Liberties

Interview with Viki Harrison, director of Constitutional Convention and the Protect Dissent Program at Common Cause, conducted by Scott Harris

Article V of the U.S. Constitution lays out the process of how the Constitution can be amended, how provisions can be added to the text of the Constitution. By design the Constitution is not easy to amend: only 27 amendments have been added to the Constitution since it was adopted in 1788. The method that’s been used to amend the Constitution is for two-thirds of each House of Congress to vote for it and then three-quarters of the states must ratify the amendment before it can be added to the Constitution.

Another method to amend the Constitution that bypasses Congress provides for a Constitutional convention to be convened if two-thirds (34) of the nation’s state legislatures call for one. But other than requiring three-quarters of states to ratify any proposed amendment, there are no rules outlined in the Constitution for how such a convention should be conducted.

Common Cause warns that out of sight of the media and most Americans, “wealthy donors, corporations and radical far right actors are now pushing calls for an Article V Convention in states across the country in order reshape our constitution for their own benefit.”  Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Viki Harrison, director of Common Cause’s Constitutional Convention & Protect Dissent Program, who talks about her work educating the public about the danger posed by groups working to convene an Article V Constitutional Convention that she believes poses a direct threat to America’s cherished rights, civil liberties and freedoms.

VIKI HARRISON: The reason this is so concerning, Scott, is there are no rules whatsoever in Article V that detail how this process would work. Who would be involved? Who would be there? Do the courts have any role once it’s been called? Does Congress have any role? Can you combine different ideas? And the really concerned thing is the last time we called a Constitutional Convention in 1787, they came together, they created rules a couple of weeks before and then they promptly threw them all out and wrote our current Constitution, which is where they came up with, for example, that we need three-quarters of the states to ratify.

Now, I will just say, Scott, a lot of folks feel like that’s a pretty good safeguard, you know? “Okay, Viki, they need 34 states to call it. But then they’ve got to get ratified by three-quarters.” And my response to that, Scott, is there’s nothing preventing them once they get to a Constitutional Convention from taking that.

SCOTT HARRIS: Tell us about the groups that are behind the movement across the country in various states to have state legislatures extend the idea of convening a Constitutional Convention?

VIKI HARRISON: Well, it’s your typical bad actors, the Koch network, ALEC, Scott Walker, Rick Santorum, the Mecklers. Big donors. So we’ve got the balanced budget amendment, which is one campaign, and they are currently at 28 states. They have been pushing for this since the mid-’70s.

And a balanced budget amendment, Scott, to many people, sounds like a good idea. They think, well, I balance my checkbook. Unfortunately, governments and businesses don’t work like our personal checkbooks. And I just think about how our country would have been crippled during the pandemic if we had a balanced budget. I mean, even businesses and far-right folks think that that would be a terrible idea.

Then we’ve got the convention of states, which is run by Mark Meckler, the guy who created the Tea Party and he’s trying to do three things with the Convention of States. And they’re at 19 states right now. And he wants to have the fiscal constraint. And he wants term limits. And he also wants a balanced budget. And he wants to rein in D.C., is what you hear a lot.

But then what you also hear, Scott, is they literally put out in their literature, “We want to get rid of the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services. The environment department. Get rid of the Affordable Care Act.”

They want to take the power away from the federal government. And it’s quite hilarious to listen to some of the legislators proposing this in states where 60 to 80 percent of their budget for the state comes from the federal government.

SCOTT HARRIS: So how many states are you working in right now to prevent passage of an endorsement of a Constitutional Convention or rescind votes supporting such a convention that may have been voted on in the past?

VIKI HARRISON: We’re currently working in a few states. We’re always trying to rescind old calls. And that’s something that we saw, even though we don’t agree with what we’re calling their wacky or fuzzy math, saying we’re just going to create and count all these conventions together.

We’re getting rid of the old ones. And we’ve gotten rid of probably 10 of them since 2016. And currently working to stop not only I mean, we’re lucky because Idaho was another big target for them. And luckily, Idaho’s legislative session just ended. But I’m still watching. Gosh, Scott, at least 25 states with active bills moving right now.

SCOTT HARRIS: This effort depends on secrecy, does it not? Because many of the groups pushing this idea of calling a Constitutional Convention want to operate below the radar.

VIKI HARRISON: 1,000 percent. And in fact, one of our partners, the Center for Media and Democracy has started tracking because the Convention of States campaign has not really spent money, political money for state races or PACs or any of that. I mean, they may be spent across the country usually in a year, maybe $100,000 for the whole country.

Well, last year they spent $1 million. Ten times times. And the Center for Media and Democracy tracked that spending and 95 percent of it is secret dark money. Scott, We can’t track it past the fake PAC that they set up from the fake foundation they set up the day after. It’s just a web of money. And these are the same exact organizations that have been fighting every single voting rights bill in the country, things like absentee voting.

Twenty years ago, everybody thought absentee voting was a great thing for people who had mobility issues or were elderly. And now all of a sudden, it’s a partisan thing. But these are the same organizations that are fighting any sort of campaign finance reform, any sort of public financing or ethics reform or redistricting reform, because they know they have gerrymandered so many states where people don’t have a voice.

For more information, visit Common Cause at commoncause.org.

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Viki Harrison (15:45) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

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