The biggest threat to the Constitution isn't Trump's national emergency declaration

The biggest threat to the Constitution isn't Trump's national emergency declaration
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Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE’s declaration of a national emergency for border wall funding, rather than respecting the constitutionally-mandated role of Congress to appropriate funds, understandably has alarmed historians and, well, members of Congress. But the more pressing danger to the U.S. Constitution may well be one that’s working its way through many state legislatures. If the effort to hold a constitutional convention is successful, as some conservative groups hope, we may open up the Constitution to a wholesale rewriting of the document not seen since its initial drafting in 1787.

I know how dangerous a constitutional convention could be; I spent nearly a decade working to create one before having a change of heart.

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Americans have amended the Constitution 27 times. Each time, it happened because two-thirds of both houses of Congress passed an amendment that was then sent to the states for ratification. But Article V of the Constitution allows for the document’s amending by another method, one that’s never been used in the nation’s history: If two-thirds of states apply to Congress calling for a constitutional convention, new amendments can be taken up there as well. (The amendment doesn’t become part of the Constitution until three-fourths of state legislatures or ratifying conventions then approve it.)

Currently, 28 states have passed resolutions calling for a convention — just six short of the 34 needed to hold one. Some, such as the group I worked with, called for one to establish a balanced budget amendment. Others have called for a convention to overturn the Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court decision. But even for its most ardent advocates, the details of how a convention would work are a little hazy.

The records of the Federal Convention of 1787 hardly mention discussions related to the state-initiated Article V process, nor do the writings of the Founding Fathers. For generations, few scholars bothered to research this shadowy article of the Constitution. More recent research has been funded by conservative Washington, D.C., think tanks with an implicit agenda to promote their version of the Article V process.

I initially was drawn to the idea of a constitutional convention to pass a balanced budget amendment. However, as the years passed, I became more troubled by the direction in which the Article V movement was headed. It had become radicalized — less about improving government and more about hatred for the federal government. The movement became akin to the “states’ rights” movement of the 1960s with its fear of a changing America and undercurrent of racism.  

During the last two years of my time in the movement, I struggled with what it had become and the influence of big money and special interests. The movement seemed to be a quest for some glorious past that never existed for all Americans.

The fact is, we just don’t know how a constitutional convention triggered through Article V would operate. Congress has no authority to set the rules of the convention. How would delegates to such a convention be apportioned? Would each state have an equal number of delegates, or would they be apportioned by state? What are the rules governing a quorum? What if only a small number of states sent delegates to the convention? Such a prospect would allow a minority of states to propose potentially radical change to our nation’s governing document.  Could the convention vote to change the rules for the states to ratify an amendment? The list of unknowns goes on.

Our nation has not been this polarized since the 1960s. We are in no condition to hold another constitutional convention. A convention through Article V would not unite our nation, but instead would tear it apart. Those seeking change should use the tried-and-true method of working through Congress. This method is difficult but we understand how it works — and it would be transparent.

I understand the desire to amend the Constitution, but my experience in the movement tells me an Article V convention simply isn’t the way.

Scott Rogers is the mayor of Charles Town, W.Va. He spent 16 years working in government affairs and campaign management before his election in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @ScottRogers_WV.