Article V Constitutional Convention Bills in South Dakota Legislature

United_States_Constitution_fNo less than three bills dealing with an Article V Constitutional Convention have been introduced in the South Dakota Legislature, and my sources tell me at least two of them are expected to be considered in committee before this week is out.

For those not familiar with Article V of the U.S. Constitution, this is the portion of our constitution which provides a mechanism for making changes to our constitution. The U.S. Constitution is not a “living document” as liberals claim, meaning a noodle that can be manipulated to mean what ever big-government statists want it to mean. It can, however, be changed as the people of the United States see fit, according to the manner prescribed in Article V via amendments; the U.S. Constitution has been amended 27 times so far, the first ten of which were the Bill of Rights.

There are two avenues for amending the U.S. Constitution. The first is the way the constitution has always been amended: an amendment passed by congress and ratified by the states. The other avenue is through a constitutional convention where amendments are drafted, then ratified by the states.

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This is the text of Article V:

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, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.

Two House Joint Resolutions have been introduced dealing with this subject: HJR 1004 and HJR 1005.

HJR 1004 makes application to congress for the sole purpose of proposing a balanced budget amendment. HJR 1005 proposes essentially the same thing but in slightly different language, applying for a “Convention of the States” instead of “making formal application to Congress” as 1004 does. 1005 is also different in that it also purposes the call for term limits in addition to a balanced budget amendment.

As Article V makes clear, in order to call a constitutional convention, three-fourths of the state must call for it. That means 38 states must act in unison in calling for a constitutional convention.

Many people have grave concerns that a Constitutional Convention could be hijacked by anti-American liberals. They fear the agenda could be shifted by liberals to push amendments which undermine the liberties we have enjoyed in America for over 200 years, and that the ratification process might be taken out of the hands of the states and put into the hands of a select few statists.

HB 1136 seeks to allay some of these concerns by limiting the authority of state delegates to a constitutional convention to stay only within the scope of the call and mandate set forth for them by their state legislature. The bill provides for a delegate to be replaced if they cannot or will not abide by the scope of the state’s call, and a fine for breaking their oath to do so. This bill seeks to prevent a “runaway convention.”

Another area of concern for many is that once a call for a constitutional convention is made, congress could decide it gets to appoint the delegates to such a convention, rather than the states appointing their own delegates.  Some people are also concerned that the ratification process might be taken out of the hands of the states, with congress appointing their own “ratification committee” or body.

Ideally, if one were to try to prevent this from happening as HB 1136 seeks to control the agenda of a constitutional convention, we would also see language in the call to congress which specifies that the states will be appointing their own delegates of their choice to the convention, and specifying that the states will be the ratifying authority for any proposed amendments which might come out of the convention…and that the call for a concon is rescinded if congress tries to usurp this state authority.

I didn’t see anything in any of these bills that rescinds the call if congress appears to depart from the expectation of the state’s call  (i.e. that the scope of the convention be limited in subject, that the states appoint their own delegates, and the states get to ratify any amendments). If we don’t make it clear up front that “Unless X, Y and Z happen, we’re pulling out,” congress might take it upon itself to craft the process however it wishes and stand on our state’s previous call as justification.

Looking specifically at a proposed balanced budget amendment itself, I didn’t see anything in HJR 1004 or 1005 which limited a balanced budget amendment to prevent more taxation as a method for balancing the budget; our taxes are already too high and hurting our economy as it is. There are also concerns that congress might “interpret” a poorly crafted amendment to simply allow more debt to be piled on in order to “balance” the budget. 1004 does mention revenue (while 1005 does not), but then again, could a rogue congress (like the one we have had for many years now) “interpret” additional debt as a form of “revenue?” I wouldn’t put it past them without specific language to prohibit it.

Most rational and responsible people realize our country is in grave danger on many levels, not the least of which is runaway spending. This runaway spending not only threatens our solvency, but our freedom as well, as all of these big-ticket spending programs crush liberty in one or more ways. Most decent people know something must be done if America is to survive much longer.

But is this the way? Proponents have been making a lot of effort recently to deal with many of the major objections to a constitutional convention. However, for the reasons described above, these three bills individually and in toto fall short of guaranteeing that the Left will not hijack the process and make things even worse.

Even if a constitutional convention process is guarded and a good amendment comes out of it, what then? Can we expect a federal government which already holds our existing (and more than adequate) Constitution in complete contempt to then abide by new constitutional requirements? I fear John Adams already gave us the answer some 200 years ago:

We have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

Benjamin Franklin, one of the least religious of the founders, confirmed this when he said, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.”

With the hostility routinely displayed by liberals toward our Christian heritage, and the acquiescence to that usurpation by too many of the people who actually know better, it seems pretty clear that as a whole, America no longer wants to be a moral and religious people. If not by our own actions, choices and trends, the fact that we elect and re-elect scumbags to represent us makes it clear that morality is not important to us any longer. And as the people who created this country have already told us, if we are not willing to be the kind of people who can live free under our Constitution, we will no longer be a free people.

Can these bills be amended to fill these gaps in protection for the American people? Probably. Will they be?  Time will tell, but as it stands, there seem to be too many chinks in the armor of this proposal.

If you have concerns about these bills, you should let the House State Affairs Committee members know, as well as your own elected representatives, via email, or even better with a phone call.


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Bob Ellis has been the owner of media company Dakota Voice, LLC since 2005. He is a 10-year U.S. Air Force veteran, a political reporter and commentator for the past decade, and has been involved in numerous election and public policy campaigns for over 20 years. He was a founding member and board member of the Tea Party groups Citizens for Liberty and the South Dakota Tea Party Alliance. He lives in Rapid City, South Dakota with his wife and two children.
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  • SDJammer

    There really is only one solution and that is to send true conservatives to Washington DC as our Representatives and Senators who consistently adhere to conservative principles and are not afraid to defend them.