By Sarah Elmquist Squires, Managing Editor
When the Founding Fathers crafted the U.S. Constitution, they knew that over time, governments can tend toward tyranny. So they built in a pressure valve, one that gave powers to the states to intervene and push back against an overreaching federal government.
Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides the states the power to call a convention to propose constitutional amendments. And for the last decade, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group has aimed to do just that. The Convention of States Action has urged states and citizens to stand up and demand such a constitutionally prescribed convention aimed at addressing three topics: imposing fiscal restraint on the feds, limiting the federal government’s power and jurisdiction, and calling for term limits for federal officials and Congress.
“The second part of Article V is really a process that the states can engage in when the federal government appears to be unresponsive and overreaching the federal boundaries,” explained Convention of States Action Wyoming organizer Julie Baker. “A lot of people have frustrations around what the federal government is doing … [Article V gives states] a mechanism where they can rein it back in.”
In order for such a convention to be called, 34 state legislatures must pass applications citing the issues they’d like to see addressed. Thus far, 20 states have passed such applications, though Kansas’ is tied up in the courts. During the last legislative session, Wyoming’s application cleared the Senate but was blocked in the House, but Baker believes the Cowboy State is getting closer to adding its name to the list.
Baker stressed that the call for a convention isn’t a partisan issue, but one that envelopes concerns across the political spectrum. “A lot of people are in their bunkers, and they’re not straying out of their bunkers to see the bigger picture. The Constitution isn’t a left or right issue. The U.S. Constitution is for everybody,” she explained. “The point is that this isn’t about issues or policy, it’s about who gets to make the decisions and what the solutions are. Does the federal government get to make the decisions in your state, or does the state get to make the decisions? It’s about bringing the decision-making process back into the state. And the Supreme Court has a lot to answer in that regard.”
The applications call for a convention that would focus on limiting the federal government’s power and jurisdiction, imposing fiscal restraints, and adding term limits for federal officials and members of Congress. If such a convention is called, those issues would be fine-tuned into proposed constitutional amendments, and it would take 38 states to green light them to be added to the U.S. Constitution.
While more and more states are passing applications for such a convention, Article V has not been used in this way. Yet. However, it has pressured Congress to act in the past.
When the U.S. Constitution was originally ratified, the Bill of Rights was to be taken up later. But when Congress failed to act on the promise, Virginia proposed an Article V convention to move it forward. “That spurred them into action,” Baker explained.
The provisions in Article V show that the Founding Fathers foresaw a need for states to rein in federal bureaucrats in the future. “They were so careful to ensure that nobody had more power than anybody else,” shared Baker. “They thought each arm would jealously guard their own power … And that’s what’s happened. Congress has abdicated their responsibility, and state governments have the role of keeping the federal government in check.”
Convention of States Action will host a meeting in Riverton on Saturday, September 16, at 10 a.m. at the Riverton Branch Library. It will give interested individuals the chance to learn more about the effort.
Those who support a Convention of States may visit conventionofstates.com and sign a national petition, and Baker said reaching out to state legislators is a good way to take action. “We always ask people to get to know their legislators. It’s so good in Wyoming because your legislators are your neighbors … So many people don’t know what they can do to affect change, but just reaching out is a way to start.”
In Wyoming, Baker said state leaders are starting to take note. “Because the constituents want it, and legislators, if they care what their constituents want, will take heed … If they don’t know about the process, it’s really incumbent on [legislators] to learn about the constitutional process and realize that it’s the state legislators’ duty to rein in the federal government.”