A Second Constitutional Convention could destroy America as we know it. Frighteningly, calls to hold such a convention are gaining steam on both sides of the political spectrum.
For example, The Week’s Ryan Cooper blames the ongoing government shutdown on “America’s ailing Constitution.” Cooper blames the Constitution because it contains no mechanism to prevent a shutdown.
Cooper correctly notes that conflicts like the one between President Donald J. Trump (R-New York) and the House of Representatives cannot happen in parliamentary democracies; like Canada, and the United Kingdom. To clarify in a parliamentary system the national legislature appoints the chief executive (Prime Minister, First Minister, or Chancellor).
“The U.S. Constitution was clearly outdated 100 years ago,” Cooper writes. “It might be time to start thinking about how to replace it.”
A Movement for a Second Constitutional Convention is underway
Frighteningly, some people have taken Cooper’s advice and are a planning a Second Constitutional Convention.
“I think we’re three or four years away,” former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma said of a Second Constitutional Convention in August 2018. In detail, Coburn represents a group called the Convention of the States which is working to force a Second Constitutional Convention.
The Convention has some powerful proponents including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), The Guardian’s James Lartey reports. Notably, ALEC works to promote conservative legislation by providing education and organization for state legislators. However, critics charge that ALEC promotes business-friendly laws and the extreme libertarian agenda of the Koch brothers.
Coburn and the Convention’s leaders believe a Second Constitutional Convention; or Con-Con, is the only way to get conservative constitutional amendments. For instance, a balanced budget amendment and term limits for Congress and Supreme Court Justices.
It is not clear how much support the Convention has, but Tea Party groups like Citizens for Self-Government are onboard, The Associated Press reports.
A Second Constitutional Convention could Destroy America and it is possible
Surprisingly, a Second Constitutional Convention could destroy America as we know it and the formula for holding one is in the Constitution itself.
Article V of the United States Constitution states they can hold a Second Constitutional Convention if two-thirds of the state legislatures pass resolutions asking for one. Thus, America needs a vote of 33 state legislatures to hold a Second Constitutional Convention.
Disturbingly, 28 state legislatures have passed resolutions for a Second Constitutional Convention, the extreme-right John Birch Society claims. Unfortunately, the anticommunist group seems to be the only organization monitoring such efforts.
Hence, all it could take is the votes of five state legislatures to rewrite the U.S. Constitution and radically change America’s system of government. Moreover the disruption unleashed by A Second Constitutional Convention; or Con-Con, will be far greater than anything America has seen since the Civil War.
A Second Constitutional Convention could Disrupt America
“This is the most dangerous idea in American politics that most people know nothing about,” Karen Hobart Flynn says of a Second Constitutional Convention. Flynn is president of the liberal group Common Cause.
“The ultimate project is to transform our primary rules book, which is the Constitution,” Nancy MacLean says of a Second Constitutional Convention in an Associated Press (AP) article. Importantly, MacLean is a Duke University historian who studies conservative legislative efforts.
“It’s a dangerous route and an unpredictable one,” Harvard constitutional law expert Laurence Tribe says of a Second Constitutional Convention.
History Shows how a Second Constitutional Convention could Destroy America
MacLean, Tribe, Flynn, and the John Birch Society fear a runaway Constitutional Convention that completely changes America’s system of government. Frighteningly, history shows that those fears are valid.
They intended the original Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall in 1787 to propose changes to the existing government. Instead, the delegates scrapped the existing system and drew up a whole new blueprint for the American government.
In addition, the original Constitutional Convention met in secret and refused to reveal its plans until they wrote the document. To explain, what Con-Con critics’ fear is a small group of people meeting in secret who have the power to rewrite the Constitution.
In essence, that it is exactly what happened at the First Constitutional Convention in 1787. A small band of elitists met behind closed doors and rewrote the Constitution. However, those elitists came up with the most successful constitution in human history.
Thus what the Con-Con promoters are hoping is for lightning to strike twice in the same place in the same way. Any sane person will tell you that is an irrational belief.
How a Second Constitutional Convention Threatens your Freedom
Every American should fear a Second Constitutional Convention because it could threaten your freedoms.
“This would be the mother of all opportunities for powerful interests to change the country’s Constitution,” Michael Leachman says of a Con-Con in Jacobin. Leachman is the director of state fiscal research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Take the Second Amendment for example. How long will that last if billionaire gun-control zealot Michael Bloomberg sneaks into the Second Constitutional Convention with his checkbook?
Or the First Amendment, representatives of the Pentagon and intelligence agencies will probably ask the Con-Con to write a national security exemption to free speech into the new Constitution. Thus, the military or the National Security Agency (NSA) could gain the power to arrest or detain Americans who say anything critical of their activities.
How Activists and Special Interests could rewrite the Constitution
In addition, the NSA and law enforcement will demand a national security exemption to the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. Hence, such agencies can get the power to conduct warrantless searches and surveillance.
Finally, every activist in America will demand that his or her pet ideas be part of the new Constitution. Pro-life groups will want an amendment banning abortion and pro-choice groups will want an amendment guaranteeing a right to abortion.
Environmentalists could demand an amendment to ban fossil fuels. Prohibitionists, drug warriors, and other neo-puritans will be there demanding bans on everything from pornography to video games to marijuana in the new Constitution. Finally, there will be no rules to keep lobbyists out of a Con-Con.
“Ethics and campaign finance rules don’t apply to these delegates,” Jay Riestenberg of Common Cause says of Con-Con members.
Therefore, no American’s freedom will be safe if a Second Constitutional Convention meets. To be fair the Convention of the States leaders believe they have a set of rules for a Con-Con that will prevent a runaway convention. However, those rules; like everything else about a Second Constitutional Convention, are purely theoretical.
How a Second Constitutional Convention could spark a Second American Revolution
There is a frightening historical precedent for the situation surrounding a Second Constitutional Convention we must examine. Disturbingly, that precedent is the French Revolution.
To explain, the French Revolution began when King Louis XVI tried to resolve a fiscal crisis by calling a meeting of the national legislature or Estates-General in 1789. Notably, the Estates-General had not met for 175 years since 1614.
Instead, of solving France’s problems the Estates-General was the bomb that blew the country apart. In essence, the three estates; Nobles, Church, Common People, could not agree on anything.
Eventually, the Third Estate (which claimed to represent the “people”) withdrew from the meeting declared itself the National Assembly and rewrote France’s Constitution. Over the next few years, radicals seized control of the Assembly and implemented a program of extreme change.
How a Second Constitutional Convention could lead to an American Reign of Terror
The radicalism led to the Reign of Terror; in which the Assembly murdered over 17,000 people including Louis XVI and his family.
Other effects included an all-out war with France’s neighbors and guerilla warfare in the French countryside. Modern historians think 175,000 people died in the guerrilla war or Vendee.
The chaos only ended in 1799 when Napoleon overthrew France’s elected government and made himself dictator. By then they had destroyed traditional French society. A few years later, Napoleon declared himself Emperor of France and Europe.
The parallels between France in 1789 and America in 2019 are disturbing. Those similarities include a wealthy and powerful country with an increasingly dysfunctional government; widespread income inequality, deep political and cultural divisions, and growing demands for radical reform.
How a Second Constitutional Convention could Blow America Apart
Most dramatically it was a well-intended effort to revive a long-dormant and poorly understood political institution; the Estates-General that blew the French Monarchy apart. In fact, nearly a century and a half of relative political stability collapsed as soon the Estates General met. Now we have a similar proposal in America.
Thus the fears of critics like Laurence Tribe are well-founded. French history shows how a Second American Constitutional Convention could lead to catastrophe.
“The idea that we could have a kumbaya moment in which a convention would produce a stable republic with some respect for the rule of law seems like a fantasy,” Tribe says. Sadly, history is on Tribe’s side.
History proves that Second Constitutional Convention critics have a legitimate fear. Instead, of renewing America a modern Constitutional Convention could blow it apart.