Texas Republicans push for convention of states on Constitution


Highlights

Gov. Greg Abbott has called for a convention to limit federal power.

Thirty-four states must call for such a convention for one to take place.

Texas would call for a convention of states to propose constitutional amendments limiting the federal government’s power if resolutions proposed Tuesday by Republican state lawmakers are adopted in the next legislative session.

To mark the occasion, Gov. Greg Abbott led a pep rally-like event at the Capitol on Tuesday with activists with the tea party-aligned group Citizens for Self-Governance, who then fanned out to visit lawmakers’ offices and make their pitch for a convention.

A convention initiated by the states hasn’t occurred since the Constitution was adopted. Thirty-four states must call for a convention for one to take place.

“The Constitution is broken,” said Abbott, who published a book in April that is part autobiography and part manifesto for those who support such a convention. “After November, there are now 33 Republican governors in the United States of America. We can get this done.”

If the Legislature adopts the resolution introduced Tuesday by state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, and state Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, Texas would be the ninth to do so in the terms proposed by Citizens for Self-Governance, which is calling for the convention for amendments related to three issues: establishing congressional term limits, imposing fiscal restraints and limiting federal jurisdiction.

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Through a separate campaign dating back to the 1980s, 28 states, including Texas, have passed resolutions calling for a convention focused specifically on passing a constitutional amendment requiring Congress to adopt a balanced budget.

Disputes over the process for holding a convention have never been tested in court, so many details are uncertain, including whether states’ resolutions can expire, whether the resolutions can actually limit a convention to addressing specific issues and whether resolutions adopted for different reasons can be combined to reach the 34-state minimum.

Abbott unveiled his plan for nine constitutional amendments in a January speech. They include allowing the balanced-budget proposal and others like establishing paths for overturning federal regulations and U.S. Supreme Court decisions and to prohibit the federal government from regulating activity within a single state. Congressional term limits wasn’t among his proposals.

Despite red-state resistance to the policies of the Obama administration, Abbott’s plan hasn’t taken off. And with a Republican president taking office and with both chambers of Congress in GOP hands, conservatives’ enthusiasm for amendments that tie the hands of the federal government might wane further.

Critics have questioned whether a “runaway convention” could push amendments unwanted by conservatives who initiated the meeting, such as eliminating the Second Amendment or regulating campaign finance. Others have questioned why Republicans would attempt to dramatically alter the Constitution after eight years of saying President Barack Obama has ignored it.

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While it appears unlikely a convention will meet anytime soon, Abbott’s push for Texas to call for one is looking more promising.

In 2015, a resolution passed the Texas House but not the Senate. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Senate, has included the measure, Senate Bill 21, among his top 30 goals for the next session. “I have pledged my support to push this priority forward,” Patrick said in a statement Tuesday.

Article V of the Constitution lays out two ways to propose amendments: Congress can do so with two-thirds votes in both houses; or two-thirds of the states can call for a convention to propose amendments. In both cases, three-quarters of the state legislatures must vote to ratify the proposed amendments.

All amendments since the adoption of the Constitution, however, have originated in Congress. To go the other route, a minimum of 34 states would have to call for the convention, appoint delegates and agree on proposed amendments. Then, 38 state legislatures would have to vote to ratify the proposals.

The American Legislative Exchange Council — a corporate-funded nonprofit that convenes conservative state officials across the country to coordinate policy agendas — has for years pushed for a convention on the balanced-budget amendment and more recently endorsed a broader convention like the one proposed by Citizens for Self-Governance. Democrats have criticized the council for being a conduit for Republicans to receive marching orders directly from corporate donors.



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