But we’ve never done that before! Who knows what could happen? “The idea of a runaway convention is real,” warns Senate Democratic leader Tim Lanane, D- Anderson. A liberal editorial page adds this: “Rewriting the Constitution because someone does not like a particular law, a particular court decision or the outcome of an election is a dangerous step and an even more dangerous precedent.”
It would indeed be reactionary to “rewrite the Constitution” just because somebody got bent out of shape over a particular election or court decision. But that vastly oversimplifies what Long and his allies are upset about.
The imbalance they seek to correct did not come with one specific event. It’s been gradually happening over the whole course of the country’s existence under constitutional rule. The original balance of power between states and the federal government envisioned under federalism has disappeared as Congress gave itself more authority and took more of it away from states. The convention would seek a return to the proper balance by proposing amendments to further limit the ability of Congress to regulate commerce among the states using the Commerce Clause and to tax under the powers of the 13th Amendment.
States’ rights, Long says, might disappear altogether. This is a way to keep it from happening “with a process that is legal, that is constitutional and that, if done correctly, will be effective.”
But couldn’t convention members, once assembled, do anything they wanted to no matter how the resolution limited them? Certainly they could come up with some silly changes, perhaps even dangerous ones. But anything coming out of the convention would have to be approved by a majority of voters of 38 states. Are we to trust Americans with everything about their republic except what’s in its guiding document?
This is more of a long shot than a dangerous idea. The biggest risk is that it will be a waste of time. But nothing else has come close to taming the federal behemoth, so heaven knows it’s worth the effort. At least we’ll keep talking about the issue.