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Republicans Seek Path for Constitutional Convention


WASHINGTON — Representative Jodey Arrington, a conservative Texas Republican, believes it’s well past time for something the nation has not experienced for greater than two centuries: a debate over rewriting the Structure.

“I believe the states are due a convention,” said Mr. Arrington, who in July introduced laws to direct the archivist of america to tally applications for a convention from state legislatures and compel Congress to schedule a gathering when enough states have petitioned for one. “It’s time to rally the states and rein in Washington responsibly.”

To Russ Feingold, the previous Democratic senator from Wisconsin and president of the American Structure Society, a liberal judicial group, that may be a terrible idea. Mr. Feingold sees the prospect of a constitutional convention as an exceptionally dangerous threat from the appropriate and suggests it’s closer to reality than most individuals realize as Republicans push to retake control of Congress in November’s midterm elections.

“We’re very concerned that the Congress, if it becomes Republican, will call a convention,” said Mr. Feingold, the co-author of a recent book warning of the risks of a convention called “The Structure in Jeopardy.”

“This might gut our Structure,” Mr. Feingold said in an interview. “There must be real concern and a focus about what they may do. We’re putting out the alert.”

While the rise of election deniers, recent voting restrictions and other electoral maneuvering get a lot of the attention, Mr. Feingold rates the prospect of a second constitutional convention as just as grave a threat to democratic governance.

“For those who think that is democracy’s moment of truth, that is one among those things,” he said.

Elements on the appropriate have for years been waging a quiet but concerted campaign to convene a gathering to contemplate changes to the Structure. They hope to make the most of a never-used aspect of Article V, which says partially that Congress, “on the appliance of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments.”

Throughout the nation’s history, 27 changes have been made to the Structure by one other grindingly arduous route, with amendments originating in Congress subject to ratification by the states.

With sharp partisanship making that path near unattainable, backers of the convention idea now hope to harness the facility of Republican-controlled state legislatures to petition Congress and force a convention they see as a solution to strip away power from Washington and impose recent fiscal restraints, at a minimum.

“We’d like to channel the energy to revive and reclaim this country’s traditional values and founding principles of limited government closest to the people and individual freedom and responsibility,’’ Rick Santorum, the previous Republican senator from Pennsylvania who has change into a convention champion, told a conservative conference this spring within the state.

Mr. Santorum was pushing for Pennsylvania to change into the twentieth state to formally call for a convention lately, out of the 34 states required. But it surely isn’t clear exactly what number of states have weighed in, since not all have adopted the identical language and a few petitions were submitted many years or longer ago and should even have been rescinded.

Mr. Arrington believes that when pending petitions are fully tallied, the 34-state goal might have already got been exceeded. His laws would require the archivist to “authenticate, count and publish” applications by the states, forcing Congress to act.

“The issue is that they haven’t had a ministerial, clerical mechanism for the archivist to maintain a count and report back to Congress,” Mr. Arrington said. “I do consider we’ve crossed that threshold, and it isn’t congressional discretion — it’s a constitutional mandate — that Congress should pick a date and a spot for the convention.”

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Like others, the proposal by Mr. Arrington, a deficit hawk who hopes to change into Budget Committee chairman next 12 months, would seek to restrict the convention to consideration of fiscal matters to function a check on federal spending and taxation.

But Mr. Feingold and his co-author, the constitutional scholar Peter Prindiville, say the issue is that there isn’t any certainty that the convention could possibly be forced to persist with an outlined agenda. They are saying that a “runaway” proceeding can be a definite possibility, with delegates seizing the chance to advertise wholesale changes within the founding document and veer into areas where they’d seek to limit federal power governing the environment, education and health care, amongst other issues.

“A convention by its very definition is a free-standing, distinct constitutional body,” Mr. Prindiville said. “It could be the final word high-risk gathering.”

They are saying that the reliance on language calling it a “convention of the states” is misleading — “ahistoric” within the view of Mr. Feingold and the book, which lays out the history behind Article V and former attempts to invoke it.

“Despite convention proponents’ claims of legal certainty, a very powerful questions on how a convening held under Article V can be called and the way it could function are unsettled,” the authors write within the book. “The framers left no rules. On this uncertainty lies great danger and, possibly, great power.”

What also worries the authors is that the leading proponents of the convention idea come from the appropriate and include representatives of the Tea Party movement, the Federalist Society, grass-roots right-wing activists and figures allied with former President Donald J. Trump reminiscent of John Eastman, the lawyer who wrote a memo for Mr. Trump outlining how he could seek to overturn the 2020 election.

But support and opposition for a convention don’t break completely along partisan lines. Some Republicans have resisted appeals on the state level to pass resolutions in support of a convention, apprehensive that such a gathering could open the door to a weakening of the Second Amendment and a rollback of gun rights.

And a few liberals have welcomed the concept of a convention as a solution to modernize the Structure and win changes within the makeup and power of the Supreme Court, ensure abortion rights, impose campaign finance limits and find ways to approach Twenty first-century problems reminiscent of climate change.

“There are smart people and just a few on the progressive side who’re willing to roll the dice,” Mr. Feingold said. “For me, it’s crazy to take the possibility.”

Mr. Arrington said he saw the fears of a runaway convention as overblown and noted that even when the gathering were to reach at a set of contentious changes, they’d still require approval by 38 states — a frightening task in itself. He said his hope was that the specter of a convention could force Washington to get more serious about fiscal responsibility.

“Ultimately, just having the conversation, having it change into more real within the minds of Congress, I hope will light a hearth,” he said.

Mr. Feingold and Mr. Prindiville say they hope the prospect of a convention engineered by conservatives sparks a distinct kind of fireplace — one aimed toward finding a greater way of altering the Structure to satisfy the contemporary moment.

While a convention is a foul idea, they are saying, accepting that the Structure stays chiseled in stone is sort of as troubling. They argue for a discussion on recent ways to maneuver forward with constitutional change.

“The time has come to start a serious national conversation regarding the long run of the Structure in American public life,” their book says. “We must reclaim the founding generation’s belief in bloodless revolution, reforming Article V to offer an amendment procedure fit for a contemporary, democratic society.”

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