|VOL. 18, NO. 5||P.O. BOX 618, ALTON, ILLINOIS 62002||DECEMBER 1984|
|CON CON: Playing Russian Roulette with the Constitution|
Most people think that it is irrational to play such a risky game with your own life, Society calls it murder if you play it with anyone else's life. Many of us feel it would be just as irrational to play such a risky game with the U.S. Constitution our most precious document and the fountainhead of our unparalleled American freedom, independence, and prosperity.
A call for a Federal Constitutional Convention (popularly called Con Con) means playing Russian Roulette with our Constitution. The chances are good, perhaps very good, that our Constitution would survive. But it isn't rational to take such a risk with something so important as our Constitution.
Thirty-two state legislatures have passed resolutions calling for a Constitutional Convention to consider a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A Balanced Budget Amendment is a desirable goal. But a good end does not justify a bad means, and Con Con would be a very bad and dangerous means.
A decade ago, when those supporting a Balanced Budget Amendment began their effort to pass Con Con resolutions in State Legislatures, it seemed a useful educational device. It dramatized the urgency of our horrendous Federal fiscal problems. It made a "Statement" that the American people are very serious about our demand for a Balanced Budget Amendment.
But now that our nation is only two states short of the actual call for a Con Con, it's time to stop dangerous bluffing about the Constitution and talk about risks and realities. If 34 states (2/3rds of the 50 states) pass resolutions calling for Con Con, the obligation to call one is mandatory on Congress. The roller-coaster ride will have started, and there will be no way to get off.
Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides two methods of amendment: "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 reposed by the Congress."
The 26 existing amendments to the Constitution were all adopted by the first of the two amendment procedures specified in Article V. The alternate method, a Constitutional Convention, has never been used. That doesn't make it wrong; but it should require us to evaluate the risks before plunging into a radically different method which could put our entire Constitution on the bargaining table to be torn apart by the media, political factions, and special-interest groups.
The best way to predict the outcome of any American legal controversy is to ask, what is the precedent? We have only one precedent for a Federal Con Con, the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and it was, indeed, a runaway convention. It violated its orders to merely amend the old Articles of Confederation. Instead, it produced an entirely new document the Constitution.
That was fortunate; in that era, we had a historically unique group of great men to write our Constitution, including George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin. No one has detected men of that stature in our country now.
The text of Article V of the U.S. Constitution uses the plural "amendments" in referring to Con Con. Article V states that, upon the application of 34 states, Congress "shall call a Convention for proposing amendments." It is rather far-fetched to claim that the Founding Fathers didn't mean what they said in plain English.
NO constitutional authority claims that a Con Con could be limited to an up-or-down vote on a particular Balanced Budget Amendment as proposed by the groups urging it. Even though the state resolutions explicitly tie their call for Con Con to a Balanced Budget Amendment, those resolutions cannot override the plain words of the U.S. Constitution.
If not limited to one Balanced Budget Amendment, could Con Con be limited to amendments (plural) on the one general subject of fiscal matters? The opinion of constitutional authorities is divided on this question. For example, former Senator Sam J. Ervin, Jr., believes that a Con Con could be limited to one subject; Gerald Gunther (author of the leading casebook on constitutional law used in law schools) says it could not. Any lawyer can give his opinion on what the Con Con procedure can be or should be; but NO lawyer, no matter how distinguished, can tell us what it surely will be, because nobody knows. No law exists to prescribe rules for a Con Con and, even if Congress passes one now, we would never know its constitutionality until it is reviewed by the Supreme Court.
Some anti-tax and/or conservative organizations seem to think they have enough grassroots support to elect an anti-tax/conservative Con Con, and so they are anticipating the power to write the constitutional amendments which they want.
These groups who dream about the glory of serving in a Constitutional Convention should ponder the fact that all anti-tax proposals were defeated in 1984 referenda. They should also ponder the fact that, since they couldn't elect a conservative Congress in a year when the top of the ticket was the most conservative Presidential candidate in 60 years, there is no realistic hope that they could elect a conservative Con Con.
The International Women's Year Conference of 1977 and the several White House Conferences (on Families, on Education, etc.) provide frightening lessons in how the election of delegates to a one-time-only national conference can be manipulated by special-interest pressure groups. Those conferences created chaos and controversy, bitterness and divisiveness, and essentially were media events. No one could reasonably assert that their final resolutions represented majority thinking in the United States.
Changing our entire structure of government has been a longtime project of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Santa Barbara, California, which was established by the Fund for the Republic, which in turn was financed by the Ford Foundation. Over a ten-year period, the Center produced 40 successive drafts of an entirely new and different constitution. The project was headed by Rexford Guy Tugwell, one of the academic liberals from Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal "brain trust" of the 1930s.
In 1974, the Center released its final draft in the book The Emerging Constitution by the then 83-year-old Tugwell (published by Harper & Row). It was called a "Constitution for the Newstates of America." It is radically different from our present Constitution in ideology, concept of rights, structure of government, and power over individuals.
The Newstates Constitution would pitch out our 50 states and replace them with 10 (or a maximum of 20) regional "Newstates," which would not be states at all but rather subservient departments of the national government. The government would be empowered to abridge freedom of expression, communication, movement and assembly in a "declared emergency." The practice of religion would be considered a "privilege."
The Newstates' "political procedures" would be controlled by nationally-appointed Overseers. If a Newstate didn't follow national orders, the Watchkeeper would require it "to forfeit revenues" to the national government.
The President of the Newstates of America would have one term of nine years. The Senate would be made up of 100 persons with lifetime tenure, most of them appointed by the President. The House of Representatives would have 100 members elected at-large as a single ticket with the President and Vice President (for nine-year terms).
The Newstates Constitution would eliminate our American Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances and replace them with a government of six branches. In addition to the executive, legislative and judicial, there would be the Electoral, the Planning, and the Regulatory. The government would be run by appointed, not elected, officials. Elections would be managed by an Overseer of Electoral Procedures. The economy would be directed by a National Planning Board and managed by a National Regulator.
On May 30, 1984, a group called the Committee on the Constitutional System (CCS) held a Washington, D.C., news conference and released a summary of a meeting which had taken place the preceding September 9-10, 1983, at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. This confirms that a powerful elite group is waiting in the wings to bring about a radical restructuring of our American Constitution.
The co-chairmen of this group are C. Douglas Dillon, former Secretary of the Treasury and a powerful Wall Street figure, and Lloyd N. Cutler, former counsel to President Jimmy Carter. Others participating in working panels include former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, former Senator J. William Fulbright, Congressman Henry Reuss, and representatives from the Brookings Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson Center.
Just to call the roll of the prominent names is enough to reveal what enormous power in business, finance, the media, politics, and academia is behind this plan for total constitutional change. This group is building a liberal consensus for these objectives:
Will the 18 non-Con Con state legislatures realize what a momentous responsibility hangs on a decision to become the 33rd or 34th state calling for Con Con?.
Will those non-Con Con states realize that the real issue is not a Balanced Budget, but the integrity of our United States Constitution? A Balanced Budget should and can be achieved on its own merits, but a Federal Constitutional Convention would be a constitutional crisis of divisive, destructive dimensions. It would serve the purposes of powerful groups which want to use the approaching Bicentennial observance of the United States Constitution in 1987-91 as an opportunity to bring about their view of "a new world order" to replace the American Republic.
Our United States Constitution is an inspired document which has guaranteed our political and spiritual freedom, economic opportunity, state diversity, and national growth. It is a statement of principle and practicality that has worked well for two centuries. The Bicentennial in 1987-91 should be a celebration of our Constitution's unique and unparalleled success, not crisis years when we are uncertain whether or not it will survive.
Eagle Forum has been the grassroots guardian of the U.S. Constitution since 1972. We have protected it against the powerful and well-financed efforts of those who tried to amend it with pleasing words to achieve radical goals. We urge our friends to work energetically for a Balanced Budget Amendment, but to oppose Con Con because NO cause, however worthy, justifies risking our great United States Constitution. We urge state legislatures to reject all proposals to request a Federal Constitutional Convention and to rescind any previous call for a Con Con.