One of the major stumbling blocks to supporting a constitutional convention is the fact that it’s an “unlimited” convention.
It’s important, as Prof. Robert Williams of Rutgers University told the March 29 Conference, to remember that state constitutions don’t function like the US Constitution. The US Constitution grants power to the federal government, whereas state constitutions restrict the powers of the state governments.
But all constitutions also lay out the civil liberties their citizens can expect. And both functions of the constitution are up for review. Of the 14 amendments to come out of the 1986 convention, about six pertained to civil liberties in some manner.
This is an important reason to fear the risk of the convention. Even if all the delegates campaign solely on the structural part of constitutional change, there’s nothing stopping them from throwing in civil liberties amendments as well. In all likelihood, these amendments won’t increase civil liberties, but rather weaken them for non-dominant groups; women, recent immigrants, racial/ethnic minorities, and the incarcerated.
One suggestion offered by Prof. Williams was to have a “limited” convention. It’s possible to write an amendment to the state constitution that allows a convention to be called that can only focus on structural issues of government. However, that would require a popular, grassroots effort to force the General Assembly to do so. Engaging in that effort would demonstrate good faith that Pro-convention side is responsive to the concerns of the Anti-covention side. That could do a lot to win support for a future convention.
- Part 1: Pro-convention reasons against a constitutional convention ‘Why now?’
- Tomorrow: The status quo bias