Why would a prominent law professor supposedly in favor of
having the nation�s second constitutional convention organize a symposium where
the keynote speaker is dead set against a convention? And why pack the three
subsequent panels with people against a convention? I kept asking myself these
questions as I attended the recent symposium that Larry Sabato had the audacity
to title �National Constitution Convention.�
When I first heard about the event I was troubled by how it
was being marketed as, literally, a national constitutional convention -- not a
conference about a second convention, or the case for the first time use of the
option in Article V of the Constitution to hold a convention of state delegates
to consider making proposed amendments. Why sell the event as a national
constitution convention? The answer became clear: to sell Larry Sabato�s latest
book that sets forth a large number of constitutional amendments, most of which
both the panelists and nearly everyone else examining them rejects.
This raised another troubling question: Why would someone
who sincerely believes our nation needs another convention, rather than relying
on Congress to propose amendments, purposefully set forth so many controversial
amendments? History has shown that the many attempts to get an Article V
convention failed because each of them was linked to advocacy for a specific
amendment. When people opposed an amendment they automatically opposed an
Article V convention. So here comes Larry Sabato who engineers a lot of public
attention to over 20 amendments that many will oppose. True, it brings
attention to amending the Constitution. But does he think that doing this will
actually promote support for the nation�s first Article V convention? It
certainly did not do that at his symposium. Consider these public positions
given at the event:
Keynote speaker Geraldine Ferraro, former vice presidential
nominee, could not have been more anti-convention. She said she was �not a fan
of a second convention� and is �afraid of one.� While she articulated
considerable fears about the damage a convention could do, she failed to even
mention the safety net created by the Framers in Article V: the difficult
ratification process where three-quarters of the states would have to approve
every proposed amendment. Such an obvious bias cannot be overlooked when
considering her perspective and comments -- so typical of political
establishment elites protecting the status quo.
The biggest event speaker was Supreme Court Justice Samuel
Alito who said he was �skeptical� about the nation having the kind of talent
for a second convention that was present at the first one. �I�m skeptical we�d
be so fortunate if we tried it a second time,� he said. He seems to not
understand that our current corrupt, dysfunctional political system has for
some time not attracted the very best people. He also failed to mention the
2006 decision he supported with the rest of the Supreme Court to not consider a
federal lawsuit, Walker vs. Members of Congress, which dealt specifically with
the obligation of Congress to obey the Constitution and call an Article V
Several panelists took the position that Americans do not
have sufficient civic literary or education to support having a convention, and
that we could not do better than the original Framers, ignoring many of the
subsequent amendments that have been extremely important because they improved
upon the initial Constitution. Not one speaker recognized that there have been
hundreds of state constitutional conventions, none of which wrecked state
Lance Cargill, Oklahoma Speaker of the House, expressed
concerns about a new convention causing political and economic instabilities.
Could one expect anything more from the status quo political establishment?
There was not one person on the symposium panels that could be considered a
true activist advocating for an Article V convention as a critically need path
to major political reforms.
One of the panelists noted that Sabato talks about �a new
Constitution� and, of course, that rightfully frightens people. In fact, all an
Article V convention can do is propose specific amendments to the current
Constitution. It just feeds opposition to a convention to speak of a �new
Constitution.� So why does Sabato do that?
Interestingly, one of Sabato's proposals for a balanced
budget amendment received sufficient applications from the states to cause a
convention call by Congress which it disregarded, which he should know and take
a strong position on.
Let me give Sabato deserved thanks for pointing out a number
of facts that theoretically should build public support for an Article V convention.
He has correctly emphasized that the Framers gave us the Article V convention
option because they �didn�t trust Congress.� And he has made it clear that
Congress has refused to give Americans the convention option because they fear
changing the political system by which they have gotten their jobs. �Congress
is a burial ground for constitutional amendments,� he said. He has also made it
abundantly clear that the Framers did not believe that the original
Constitution was �perfect� and that, indeed, they �never intended it to be
sacred and untouchable.� He has noted that the convention �was the Founders�
preferred method.� He likes quoting Thomas Jefferson who believed in periodic
rebellions to safeguard American democracy. He should also quote Hamilton who
stated a convention call was "peremptory" and that "Congress
shall have no option" regarding a convention call.
In sum, on the one hand, Sabato recognizes the need for
constitutional amendments and that the route to getting important ones is through
an Article V convention. On the other hand, however, nothing he is doing in his
efforts promoting his latest book seems effective in actually building public
support for the very difficult task of getting -- after 220 years -- the first
Article V convention. How can we reconcile this dichotomy?
He expresses no sense of urgency despite recognizing the
current political and government system is broken. �It will probably take a
generation before anything happens, if it happens then,� he said -- and a generation
today means about 30 years. It would appear the professor is content simply to
write a book about the issues, stir up a lot of negative feelings about a
convention, but solve nothing regarding the problem.
He seems stuck in an academic mindset rather than proudly
arguing for reform through a convention. He promotes school mock constitutional
conventions. In other words, he seems to have capitulated to a pretty negative
perspective that despite having a big set of revolting conditions, the country is
not ready for holding an Article V convention to reform and fix our broken
system. Sabato knows that the Article V convention option was put into the
Constitution because the Framers anticipated that the public might someday lose
confidence in the federal government, and he surely knows that that day has
As a co-founder of Friends
of the Article V Convention, I welcome more explicit support for pressuring
Congress to obey the Constitution and their oath of office by acknowledging
that there have been over 500 applications from all 50 states for a convention.
This more than satisfies the one and only requirement specified in Article V.
And Sabato knows that Congress has never passed any law that in any way expands
or reinterprets that single requirement that two-thirds of states ask for a
convention, upon which Congress �shall� call a convention. It certainly would
help the nation if Sabato would talk more about all of these circumstances than
merely focus on a large set of contentious possible amendments which if a
convention is never called will never come to pass.
S. Hirschhorn can be reached through www.delusionaldemocracy.com.