There is no language in Article V of the U.S. Constitution authorizing Congress to call a convention that is limited once in session. The delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention came to Philadelphia with a mandate to fix the failing Articles of Confederation, not junk them for a totally new form of government.
But George Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin & Co. did just that. The “Philly coup” against the Confederation went further than anyone imagined.
Did a single state resign and walk out in protest? No. Once the confab convened, the delegates knew they were free to change everything.
Which is exactly what they did.
Once Virginia and the other required 33 states have properly demanded that Congress call a constitutional convention, then all bets are off, for liberals and moderates, not just conservatives. Abortion rights, gay marriage, even public education — everything would be on the constitutional table.
Thus our puzzlement at the rush of allegedly “conservative” Virginia Republicans to take such a radical step without first wanting to know the answers to the most basic questions surrounding what would be the first event of its kind under Article V.
Would there be uniform national standards for delegation qualifications? Would they be paid? How would they be chosen? Fundamental, Law 101 stuff.
But even before that: How many more states must call for such a convention before Congress must act?
There isn’t even a universally accepted answer to that critical question.
Moreover, Mr. Cuccinelli and company are either further misinformed or intentionally misleading Republicans on another basic matter. They assert conservatives should not worry, because any proposed amendment emanating from a convention would have to be approved by 38 state legislatures, meaning GOP legislators around the country would have an absolute veto over supposedly bad ideas.
Wrong again. Article V gives Congress the power to provide a process for the proposed amendments to become law while bypassing every GOP-controlled state legislature. But how expansive is this power? No one knows for sure.
Let’s be blunt: GOP leaders in the General Assembly consider tea party conservatives to be naive and a pain. But this is an election year in Virginia. A constitutional convention is a priority for tea party leaders. Handing them what looks like a great “win” is good politics: Tea party leaders look like they have clout; GOP lawmakers look as if they are listening to the tea party faithful, a big part of the GOP voting base. Even if the General Assembly fails to get the body to endorse a constitutional convention, GOP candidates get credit for trying.
A constitutional convention would be great for professors, law and government students, reality TV shows, political junkies and cable news jockeys. It is a full-employment act for tea party activists and the chattering class.
But should public money be spent on their circus? Article V is limited to Congress’s duty to convene the convention. After doing its only required duty, Congress shouldn’t then waste millions of the people’s dollars on it.
Assuming this isn’t another government-funded boondoggle for the political elite, then we say: let the modern-day George Masons have at it, if such is the collective will of our nation’s state lawmakers.
Some delegates will become pop culture stars — the new “Sons of Anarchy.” There will be live streaming of convention deliberations, periodic Twitter meltdowns and new characters for the talk shows. In our digital age, this passes for productive, useful work.
We say let them talk themselves into a lather. But not on the public dole.