Oregon lawmakers are considering a joint memorial (PDF) calling for a constitutional convention to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. It's not surprising they want to do something about Citizens United given the destructive power of money in politics.
The strategy of calling for a constitutional convention, however, is too dangerous.
Why? Because states cannot limit the agenda of a constitutional convention. A convention would open up the Constitution to whatever amendments its delegates choose to propose, not necessarily or exclusively an amendment to overturn Citizens United. As Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe explains with regard to a constitutional convention, “What you’re doing is putting the whole Constitution up for grabs.”
If that isn’t scary enough, consider who else is calling for a constitutional convention: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Bill Moyers calls ALEC a “national consortium of state politicians and powerful corporations, . . . a vast network of corporate lobbying and political action aimed to increase corporate profits at public expense without public knowledge . . . one state house at a time.” And the call for a constitutional convention is a strategy straight out of ALEC’s handbook (PDF).
ALEC’S agenda includes an ill-conceived balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution — an amendment which would sew into the Constitution an economic straitjacket that would leave our nation largely helpless in fighting recessions. You can be sure that if a Congress called a constitutional convention (two-thirds of the states must request one), ALEC would pour money into shaping the outcome, and they wouldn’t just focus on a balanced budget amendment.
If the goal is to overturn Citizens United with a constitutional amendment, there is a better approach: have Congress propose and send to the states for ratification an amendment. This is the tried-and-true approach that every amendment to the Constitution has taken.
That’s what the 2013 legislature asked for and what the current legislature should ask for, too. If current lawmakers want to help undo Citizens United, they should pass a joint memorial similar to HJM 6 adopted in 2013 (PDF), calling on Congress to send an amendment to the states for ratification.
Let’s not give ALEC what it wants, an opportunity to put our whole Constitution up for grabs with a constitutional convention.
By Chuck Sheketoff
April 30, 2015