Published in The Virginia Pilot | Hampon-Roads
As Americans of all stripes lament the polarized condition of politics in Washington, D.C., a new hope is rising among those who are disillusioned with massive government programs and are wondering whatever happened to states’ rights.
It is a bold vision – grand enough to inspire those who have become politically despondent, yet so carefully conceived that it just might work. It is, in fact, the Founding Fathers’ own plan – to rein in the power of the federal government through an Article V “Convention of States.”
Upon hearing the word “convention,” many jump to the conclusion that the idea is to re-write the Constitution. It isn’t. Under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, the drafters specifically provided a way for the states to propose constitutional amendments when two-thirds of the states pass resolutions calling for a convention for this purpose.
Those who have heard of Mark Levin’s recent book, “The Liberty Amendments,” are already familiar with the basic idea.
While some efforts seek to unite two-thirds of the states around a particular constitutional amendment (a balanced budget amendment, for example), an organization called Citizens for Self-Governance has now launched a slightly different approach – in Virginia, as well as other states – that holds great promise.
A massive volunteer network has mobilized to pass resolutions in the requisite 34 states, calling for a convention to propose amendments that are germane to a specific topic – limiting the power of the federal government.
At this point, nothing short of constitutional amendment is likely to successfully counter the trend of federal aggrandizement.
Since 1936, the federal judiciary has failed to provide an effective “check” on the juggernaut that is congressional spending power. Under current modes of constitutional interpretation, there is simply no limiting principle to constrain Congress’ notion of “the general welfare” and therefore no practical restraint on its power to tax and spend for this purpose.
As long as federal spending programs need not be tied to any of Congress’ enumerated powers but only to a plausibly good motive, the principle of a limited federal legislature with only specifically enumerated powers will be but a dead letter.
A moment’s consideration of the breadth and depth of federal intrusion into citizens’ daily lives reveals how far we have strayed from the Framers’ vision of federalism, where states have plenary power and Congress is restricted to certain, specific powers. Today, the sticky fingerprint of Congress is on everything from light bulbs, to baby strollers, to health insurance plans.
In Federalist No. 33, Alexander Hamilton offered this instruction to a skeptical public: “If the federal government should overpass the just bounds of its authority and make a tyrannical use of its powers, the people, whose creature it is, must appeal to the standard they have formed, and take such measures to redress the injury done to the Constitution as the exigency may suggest and prudence justify.”
Citizens for Self-Governance is heeding this call because it is convinced that the basic components of good governance transcend centuries.
If the organization is successful in achieving a critical mass, each state legislature will choose its convention delegates, who will re-examine the merits of our Founding Fathers’ collective judgment that a limited federal government is best suited to a freedom-loving people.
But by the terms of the state resolutions, delegates could only propose, consider and debate amendments which are germane to the purpose of limiting federal power. Proposed amendments would require ratification by three-fourths of the states.
Any student of American history will concede that the federal government of 2013 bears little resemblance in size or function to that envisioned by the drafters of the Constitution in 1787.
The changes are not merely the inevitable result of the march of time or growth in population and technology; they represent a sea change in our philosophy of government.
Our nation has become unmoored from its textual anchor. To be sure, some citizens are pleased with the ship’s new direction. But are the rest of us willing to entrust the future of our society to the particular predilection of whatever persons or parties manage to gain the helm, or to the winds of time?
Thoughtful citizens should consider whether we will silently endorse the de facto abandonment of the Founders’ design or insist upon the more reasoned, intentional navigation that is possible through a Convention of States.
Rita Dunaway, Virginia Christian Alliance Vice President for Public Policy, also writes on her blog Fundamental Things. Rita M. Dunaway graduated summa cum laude from West Virginia University in 1998, having earned a B.S. in Journalism and a B.A. in Political Science simultaneously.