Gov. Greg Abbott calls for convention to amend Constitution

Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday called for a convention to gather and adopt nine new amendments to the U.S. Constitution in what he is calling “the Texas plan,” an ambitious, if improbable, gambit to wrest power from the federal government for the states.

“Departures from the Constitution are not the aberration. Now they have become the norm,” said Abbott, speaking at an event by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in Austin. “The irony is the threat to our republic doesn’t come just from foreign enemies, it comes in part from our very own leader.”

His proposed amendments — which include allowing a two-thirds vote of the states to repeal any federal law and preventing Congress from regulating activity that takes place all within the borders of one state, such as marriage and gun ownership — would “put teeth in the 10th Amendment” and guarantee states’ rights, he said.

The proposal speaks to the level of unhappiness Abbott and other conservatives feel with President Barack Obama’s administration and recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court. But it would be an uphill battle, as the Constitution requires two-thirds of states to call a constitutional convention and three-quarters of the states to ratify an amendment.

Some GOP presidential hopefuls are on board for a constitutional shake-up. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida called for a convention earlier this week and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas echoed Abbott’s plan while campaigning Friday in Iowa.

The Constitution has been amended 27 times, most recently in 1992. All but one of the amendments were proposed through a two-thirds vote of Congress and subsequently ratified by the states, one of the two methods Article V of the Constitution sets forth. None of the amendments since the Bill of Rights has been successfully initiated by a constitutional convention.

Although they have lost the last two presidential elections, Republicans have dominated races for state offices in recent years, perhaps making it an opportune time for the party to push for constitutional changes. Republicans hold 32 governorships and control 31 state legislatures. If it gained the support of independent Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, a GOP bloc would have the top officials in two-thirds of the states.

Nonetheless, if the group’s amendments appealed only to conservatives, it would be difficult to get the effort across the finish line thanks to the three-fourths requirement for ratification. Republicans also don’t have full control of many of the statehouses they lead, meaning Democrats might be able to block proposals, and several of the GOP governors are in blue states that could switch hands in upcoming elections.

If all the amendments were adopted, the changes would amount to a massive shift in power away from the federal government and to the states, a reversal of sorts of what the original constitutional convention did in abolishing the decentralized Articles of Confederation.

The announcement was cheered by Republicans critical of Obama’s use of executive orders and Supreme Court decisions such as the one guaranteeing same-sex couples the right to marry. Many Democrats, however, criticized the plan and pointed out the paradox of “constitutional conservatives,” as many on the right have called themselves in recent years, wanting to change the Constitution so dramatically.

Manny Garcia, Texas Democratic Party deputy executive director, said in a statement, “Unfortunately, the most pressing issue for Imperial Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is how we can tear apart the Constitution and take America back to an equivalent of the Articles of Confederation. … Texas families deserve serious solutions, not tea party nonsense.”

Not all of the reaction fell along party lines. Sanford Levinson, a University of Texas law professor and self-described liberal Democrat, said the left shouldn’t dismiss Abbott’s call to alter the 227-year-old document.

“Although I generally disagree with the specific proposal … the Constitution is in fact highly defective, and the American people would benefit tremendously from a serious conversation about the strengths and weaknesses of the current Constitution,” he said.

Levinson said Republicans’ unhappiness with Obama’s use of executive power, a stated reason for Abbott’s proposal, should be viewed as the flip side to his own outrage at the use of power by the George W. Bush administration’s “war on terror.” Taken together, he said, it’s clear that Americans are unhappy with how the federal government is structured.

“This is what was going on during the Bush administration. There were lots of people like me who were denouncing the Bush administration’s views on torture. Now the shoe is on the other foot,” he said. “What joins these issues is that it is long overdue to have a serious discussion about what kinds of powers we want to put in the hands of the president in the modern world.”

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