Last week, Virginia legislative sponsors quietly withdrew their hotly-debated resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment-proposing convention. If passed, these resolutions would have made Virginia the fourth state to request a meeting under Article 5 to consider proposals for restraining federal power and restoring power to the states.
Inside reports indicated that the effort had garnered enough support to ensure passage in the House, but that it would fail by a single vote in the Senate. The patrons thus withdrew the resolutions to preclude a fruitless, controversial vote.
Unfortunately, this wise strategy decision will likely reinforce the fear-and-smear tactics of a fringe group that has worked itself into a frenzy over hypothetical doomsday scenarios. Not even the text of the Constitution itself—requiring ratification by 38 states before amendment proposals can take effect—can convince them that a meeting of state representatives to limit federal power won’t end with a repeal of the Bill of Rights.
Conspiracy theories have been a prominent feature in the playbook of these Article 5 naysayers. Ultra-conservative state Sen. Dick Black, one of the two Republicans who intended to side with Democrats to defeat Virginia’s Senate resolution, sent an e-mail circulating rumors that George Soros and over 100 liberal groups, including Occupy Wall Street, were the ones “pushing for” the Convention of States Project.
While those parties may be advocating an Article 5 convention to achieve other goals (i.e., overturning Citizens United), the suggestion that they support the Virginia effort for a convention to limit federal power is patently false. They don’t support it because, unlike the naysayers, they know that they can't use an Article 5 convention to accomplish purposes opposite to those stated in the application (restraining federal power).
Chris Obrecht, left, and Denice Yeagin participate in a Constitution Day rally at the Capitol on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, in Austin, Texas. Credit: AP
It’s curious that the public doesn’t see past the conspiracy theories. After all, the very reason the effort has stalled out in Virginia is because it hasn’t yet mustered a single Senate Democrat to support it.
Advocates hope that will soon change, however. They believe that such common-sense amendments as limiting congressional spending power and imposing checks on the federal courts will appeal to Americans in both parties who support our original federal structure.
Meanwhile, misinformed detractors from all sides fire away at the conservatives leading the charge to embolden state legislatures to use their Article 5 powers.
On February 2, Washington Post opinion columnists Norman Leahy and Paul Goldman charged an elite group of constitutional attorneys who endorse the Convention of States Project (including Ken Cuccinelli, Michael Farris, Randy Barnett, Chuck Cooper, and many others) with “Flunking Democracy 101 in Virginia.”
It is ironic and audacious for writers who refer to our Constitutional Republic as a “Democracy” to accuse experienced constitutional lawyers of misunderstanding the Constitution. And audacity should always be preceded by research.
Twenty minutes of reading would have exposed their error in calling the Constitutional Convention “the Philly Coup” and claiming that it “went further than anyone imagined.” Ten of the 12 states gave their delegates broad, written instructions to “render the Foederal Constitution adequate to the Exigencies of the Union.” Our Constitution is not an illegitimate product of rogue delegates.
Virginia’s Statute for Religious Freedom, written by Thomas Jefferson, testifies to the ultimate power of truth, so long as free argument and debate are available to counter error.
The tragedy for modern Americans is that the truth can’t always be told in the space of a 40-character Facebook post. But falsehoods and conspiracy theories almost always can. If we are serious about ending federal tyranny, we’ll have to take time for the truth about Article 5.
Rita Martin Dunaway serves as Staff Counsel for The Convention of States Project and is passionate about restoring constitutional governance in the U.S. Follow her on Facebook (Rita Martin Dunaway) and e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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