Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know, the end result is tyranny and oppression no matter how holy the motives.”     Robert A. Heinlein

July 12, 2006

The Danger Of Constitutional Conventions

by Doug Mataconis

The Massachusettes legislature is currently holding a Constitutional Convention for the ostensible purpose of drafting and approving a Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage which would then be voted on by the voters. That’s not all that’s on the agenda, though. Here’s a look at a few other things they’ll be considering:

HEALTH CARE — The amendment would require Massachusetts to guarantee every resident access to affordable health care, including mental health care and prescription drugs.

LEGISLATIVE TERMS (1) — The amendment would increase the legislative term from two to four years.

ABSENTEE VOTING (2) — The proposal would eliminate constitutional restrictions on absentee voting, allowing any qualified voter to vote for any officer or question by absentee ballot.

EMINENT DOMAIN — The proposed amendment would prohibit eminent domain takings for the purpose of economic development.

There are other items, most of them technical in nature, and at least one of them, the eminent domain amendment a good idea, but that’s not the point. The Convention was called for one purpose — to vote on a same-sex marriage amendment — and has been expended to include much, much more.

It reminds me of the calls that have come forth at various times for a Constitutional Convention on the national level to pass a proposed amendment that can’t get through Congress. Its been proposed for the ERA, a federal budget amendment, a term limits amendment, a line-item veto amendment, and, most recently an amendment to ban flag burning. The Massachusettes lesson shows, though, that there is no such thing as a Constitutional Convention that is limited to only one purpose. Once such a convention is called and convenes, everything is on the table. In fact, history will note that the Convention of 1787 which resulted in the U.S. Constitution was, in fact, initiated as a convention to amend the Articles of Confederation. Little to the Continental Congress know that it would be amended out of existence.

America was fortunate in 1787 in that we had men like Madison, and Hamilton, and Washington, and Franklin who produced a document that, to this day stands as the blueprint for the best system of government yet devised. I shudder to think what would happen if a Convention were called and populated by the likes of Schumer, Pelosi, Frist, Reid, Specter, and Kennedy.


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3 Comments

  1. Ugh… I’m in agreement with you. I know there are flaws with our Constitution, such as the fact that judicial review of Constitutional matters is just a power assumed by the Supreme Court, there’s no official grant of that power. But I’m hesitant to go down the path of reminding people in this country that they can amend the constitution. That’s what got us the 16th, 17th, and 18th amendments. What else might the public want to enshrine in our highest document if we remind them that they can do so?

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — July 12, 2006 @ 4:02 pm
  2. Brad,

    While I would be as worried as you about what the public might do if given free reign to propose amendments to the Constitution, I am just as (if not more) concerned by what the people most likely to attend a Constitutional Convention would do.

    In the best case, we’d end up with something equivalent to the Congress we have now, which would be a disaster to begin with. In the worst case, we’d end up with the likes of Ralph Nader and Pat Robertson arguing over how Article III should be changed.

    Given that alternative, I’m fine with the way things are.

    Comment by Doug Mataconis — July 12, 2006 @ 7:45 pm
  3. ‘mental health care’ ARGH don’t get me started on that.

    Whenever the state pushes mental health what it’s really pushing is docility among its citizenry. Trying to turn monkeys into cows. The inherent similarities between the modern psych philosophy and leftism are mind boggling in their disdain for the individual and his ability to change his lot in life.

    Comment by IndianCowboy — July 18, 2006 @ 6:19 am

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