Congressional leaders have spent ten months in a quiet legal battle with Montgomery Blair Sibley, a local resident who wants a judge to force them to call a constitutional convention.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are working to dismiss the case filed by Sibley, who is best known for representing the so-called D.C. madam in 2007, suing the Supreme Court for treason and alleging in multiple lawsuits that President Obama was not born in the United States.
“It’s time the states had a word in how our country is going to be governed,” Sibley said in a phone interview Monday.
Sibley, a descendant of the family that established Blair House on Lafayette Square, claims that Ryan, McConnell and former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) failed in their “absolute duty” to call a convention once more than two-thirds of states applied. He argues that threshold has been passed, counting 35 applications by various states since 1901.
At a time when the notion of an “Article V convention” is fueling chatter on the presidential campaign trail, a legal battle over initiating one might spur interesting debate. But Sibley’s lawsuit is mired in more mundane questions, including which court should rule on his case and whether courts should force Congress to take a specific vote.
Spokesmen for Ryan and McConnell declined to say under what circumstances Congress would order a constitutional convention. They referred other questions to lawyers for the House and Senate.
“The proceedings in this case have not pertained to the merits of Mr. Sibley’s arguments for an Article V convention – and the Speaker has not taken any position on those arguments,” the House Office of General Counsel said in an emailed statement.
“Rather, the proceedings have involved which court, if any, can consider Mr. Sibley’s arguments, and all associated defenses.”
Coming from Sibley, a suspended lawyer who the Florida state bar has called a “vexatious litigant,” the suit might appear as nothing more than another quixotic effort to work his will through the judicial system. He is not affiliated with any group or wider movement advocating for a convention, though those organizations do exist.
“I didn’t know this suit was filed, but it’s without merit and it’s really not helpful to the Article V movement,” said Michael Farris, co-founder of the Convention of States, a group that believes states should initiate a convention to propose limits on federal power.
Still, Sibley hopes his suit will propel the debate, particularly if — or when — he appeals a loss to the Supreme Court.
His wish for more talk of a convention is already coming true. Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich became the latest Republican presidential candidate to endorse the idea when he said Tuesday in New Hampshire that a convention is necessary to pass a balanced budget amendment.
“If I’m president, we’re going to get there. We are absolutely going to get there. But if I’m not there, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Kasich said at a town hall event, according to the Washington Times.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who won the Iowa caucuses, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who came in third, have also expressed their support for a convention, drawing praise from the conservative right. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who is not running for president, also supports the idea of a convention.
Sibley’s views seem to reflect both sides of the political spectrum. His disdain for “runaway” federal power echoes the right, and he agrees with Cruz and others who believe the Senate should be elected by state legislatures as it was before the 17th Amendment.
But Sibley is also a vocal supporter of medical marijuana, a critic of racial discrimination in the justice system and an opponent of the Citizens United decision that allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections.
“I wouldn’t commit these kinds of resources to the case if I didn’t think we were in serious doo-doo, and that’s a legal term,” he said.
Sibley is not expected to succeed in the end. After months of legal maneuvering that shuffled the case between D.C. Superior and District Court, the lower-court judge threw out his suit. Sibley is now appealing that decision, a process that could take months.
He did achieve one procedural victory last fall, when a federal court judge sent the case back to Superior Court against the wishes of Ryan’s lawyers. They argued that cases involving Congress should not be decided at the local level; the judge disagreed in this instance.
On the matter of forcing a convention, Sibley is still waiting for success.
“The people who know how to litigate like I do wouldn’t do it because it would destroy their careers. I don’t much care about that,” he said.
“I think [the apostle] Paul said it best: he didn’t much care for the opinions of the courts of man and neither do I.”