Under the radar of corporate media and general public, a "dangerous proposal" is bubbling up in state legislatures throughout the country—one that could trigger "political chaos that would make past upheavals like the Watergate scandal and the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton seem tame by comparison."
"We're sounding an alarm. This is a national train wreck that must be stopped."
—Miles Rapoport, Common Cause
So warned the grassroots, pro-democracy group Common Cause on Wednesday, in a new report entitled, The Dangerous Path: Big Money’s Plan to Shred the Constitution (pdf).
The threat comes in the form of a constitutional convention, assembled under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, one of several mechanisms that enables future amendments. Article V requires Congress to call such a gathering once 34 state legislatures submit petitions to do so; new constitutional amendments agreed to at the confab would then be sent back to the states for ratification.
Twenty-seven state legislatures have already passed resolutions calling for a convention under the guise of balancing the federal budget, according to Common Cause. Action in just seven more would force Congress to comply.
"We're sounding an alarm," said Common Cause President Miles Rapoport on Wednesday. "This is a national train wreck that must be stopped."
With pro-corporate, right-wing lobby groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Citizens for Self-Governance—not to mention a number of 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls—pushing for such a convention, those who care about everything from environmental regulation to same-sex marriage to fair taxation have reason to be wary.
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For one thing, the report cautions, there are no settled rules or procedures to govern an Article V convention and experts say (pdf) it cannot be limited in scope—meaning "there is nothing to prevent the convention, once convened, from proposing additional changes that could limit or eliminate fundamental rights or upend our entire system of government."
Or as U.S. News & World Report editor Robert Schlesinger put it earlier this year, "This is total constitutional terra incognita."
Indeed, Common Cause said in a press statement: "The unprecedented assembly could re-write the 238-year-old Constitution, imperiling civil rights and the system of checks and balances at the heart of the nation’s charter."
Rapoport acknowledged that four states with Democratic-controlled legislatures have petitioned for an Article V convention to propose an amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision on campaign finance. But while Common Cause supports such an amendment in theory, "we're unwilling to put the entire Constitution at risk in an Article V convention," he said.
"There is simply no way to ensure that a convention would be limited to a single issue or a small group of issues," Rapoport explained. "Instead, there's every reason to fear it would turn into a free-for-all, endangering fundamental rights and triggering economic and political chaos."
A coalition of reform groups, including Common Cause, went even further in a statement this April, warning that "the call of a convention would place all of the constitutional rights and protections of individuals up for grabs. This includes protections that exist for civil rights, civil liberties, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, voting rights, privacy, and many others. The role of the courts in protecting the rights of individuals and minority interests would also be subject to change."