(From time to time, we have guest columnists commenting on issues of the day from their perspective. Guest columns are always welcome, and can be submitted to me here. -PP)
The US Constitution is arguably the greatest governing document ever written. But great notwithstanding, our Constitution has its frailties. Indeed, every socio-legal contract ever conceived has an intrinsic Achilles’ heel. For America’s constitution that vulnerable place is located in its fifth section: “Article V.”
Article V gives state-level lawmakers the power to force Congress to arrange a meeting (convention) of delegates to change, suspend, rewrite or overhaul the Constitution of the United States of America.
Our nation’s Constitution is not an easy study. The relevant part of Article V, however, is only 87 words in length and takes less than a minute to read and comprehend. (Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was a comparative tome at 272 words.) The literary footprint of Article V is unremarkable, belying a clear and present danger to our nation’s supreme law in its entirety.
Manipulation of our Constitution through its fifth section is serious and recent; this isn’t a fictional Tom Clancy conspiracy novel. SD’s House of Representatives conducted floor debate three times this year on the invocation of an Article V Convention (House Joint Resolution, HJR 1002). Our constitution was under genuine and substantial threat.
Ostensibly, the Resolution’s primary purpose was to force Congress to exercise self-control in collecting and expending taxpayer dollars. Washington D.C. was to be contractually bound by the Constitution via the colloquialisms “Convention of States” and “Balanced Budget Amendment.” Despite attractive taxpayer-seductive language, SD’s State Representatives wisely and soundly killed HJR 1002.
Although advertised otherwise, the Article V application for a Convention of States does not grant SD’s Legislature any control over convention topics. Our US Constitution would be hung on a wall to become a dartboard for random whimsical repeals and modifications. Would South Dakotans be willing to risk their right to keep and bear firearms? …or freely worship? I think not.
Had the Article V Convention been authorized, the US Congress would’ve had sole authority to appoint delegates and assign state allegiance to each. California’s 55 electoral votes versus South Dakota’s three? Could’ve happened. Congress also owned the prerogative to select the ratification process. Further, once convened, delegates become self-sovereign; accountable only to themselves. Not to Congress. Not to the SD Legislature. Not even to “We the People.”
Every SD state representative favors fiscal responsibility and limited federal government. Proponents of the Article V Convention couldn’t explain why they’d hold our Constitution hostage, in ransom for unenforceable federal fiscal requirements. Blackmailing Congress is flawed strategy. An Article V Convention directly implies that our Constitution is structurally unsound and in dire need of repair. The majority of SD’s state representatives did not – and do not – concur.
Besides, there’s a better and safer way. If answerable fiscal policy is the target, then American citizens should focus their sights on our elected officials at their federal posts. Know that our Constitution in its present state already includes restraints on the Feds. Demand your elected officials adhere to the Constitution – not amend it. None of the existing 27 constitutional amendments were enacted utilizing Article V procedures.
President James Madison – a primary author of our Constitution – expressed grave concern regarding Article V “difficulties.” In 1788, he stated he’d quite “tremble” at the thought of likely “insidious” partisan delegates at Article V Conventions. Eventually, he proposed the Constitution be void of all reference to the Article V process.
Our supreme law is vulnerable at its succinct, exploitable fifth section. Since our nation’s birth, more than a million American men and women have sacrificed their lives, providing the armor that’s protected the Constitution at its Achilles’ heel. The Article V Convention of States is perilous self-sabotage. The sacred, venerable Constitution of the United States of America is not wherein the problem lies. This state legislator asks – and votes – that it be left alone.
Rep. David L. Johnson, R-District 33
SD State House of Representatives