Gov. Greg Abbott, aiming to spark a national conversation about states’ rights, said Friday that he wants Texas to lead the call for a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution and wrest power from a federal government “run amok.”
“If we are going to fight for, protect and hand on to the next generation, the freedom that [President] Reagan spoke of … then we have to take the lead to restore the rule of law in America,” Abbott said during a speech at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Policy Orientation that drew raucous applause from the conservative audience. He said he will ask lawmakers to pass a bill authorizing Texas to join other states calling for a Convention of States.
Along with the speech, Abbott released a nearly 70-page plan – part American civics lesson, part anti-Obama diatribe – detailing nine proposed constitutional amendments that he said would unravel the federal government’s decades-long power grab and restore authority over economic regulation and other matters to the states.
“The irony for our generation is that the threat to our Republic doesn’t come just from foreign enemies, it comes, in part, from our very own leaders,” Abbott said in a speech that took aim at President Obama, Congress and the judicial branch.
The proposal for a convention, which has been gaining traction among some among conservative Republicans, comes just as the GOP presidential candidates begin to make forays into Texas ahead of the March primary election. The state, with 155 delegates up for grabs, will certainly be a key player in the party’s nominating process.
Abbott hasn’t endorsed a candidate, though the field includes Sen. Ted Cruz, who was one of Abbott’s top employees when the governor was attorney general. Abbott is likely hoping to boost his national profile within the GOP as eyes turn to the state.
This week, presidential contender U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., published a piece in USA Today endorsing the idea of a convention to amend the Constitution and restore limited government. In April, 27 active petitions had been filed with Congress seeking a convention to amend the constitution to require that Congress adopt a balanced budget.
Congress would be forced to act once 34 states joined the effort. So far, Cruz hasn’t endorsed the idea.
By this point, you may be wondering just what a constitutional convention orConvention of the States is and why it would be a big deal. A convention is one of two ways that the U.S. Constitution can be amended, and it’s described in Article V. One way is that Congress can propose amendments approved by two-thirds of the members of both chambers. The other method allows two-thirds of the state legislatures to call for a convention to propose amendments. Republicans backing the idea are confident that because they control state government in a majority of states, their ideas would prevail.
In both cases, the amendments become effective only if ratified by three-fourths of the states.
So far, the U.S. Constitution has been amended 27 times. None of those were amendments generated by a constitutional convention.
Critics say there’s a good reason. In an editorial lambasting Rubio’s plan, USA Today‘s editorial board warned that such a process could invite mayhem and further poison the nation’s vitriolic political scene. It would also raise unresolved questions about the years-long process of ratification. And some conservatives who otherwise agree with Abbott and Rubio on many issues fear a convention could lead to greater restrictions on guns and money in politics and greater overall power for the federal government.
Abbott, in his plan, dismisses many of those criticisms, saying that he would call for a limited scope to the convention.
The plan lays out nine specific proposed amendments that would:
- Prohibit congress from regulating activity that occurs wholly within one state.
- Require Congress to balance its budget.
- Prohibit administrative agencies from creating federal law.
- Prohibit administrative agencies from pre-empting state law.
- Allow a two-thirds majority of the states to override a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
- Require a seven-justice super-majority vote for U.S. Supreme Court decisions that invalidate a democratically enacted law
- Restore the balance of power between the federal and state governments by limiting the former to the powers expressly delegated to it in the Constitution.
- Give state officials the power to sue in federal court when federal officials overstep their bounds.
- Allow a two-thirds majority of the states to override a federal law or regulation.
A convention, Abbott wrote, would force the federal government to “take the Constitution seriously again.”
“The only true downside comes from doing nothing and allowing the federal government to continue ignoring the very document that created it,” Abbott wrote.
James Henson, director of UT’s Texas Politics Project, said Abbott’s posture aligns well with the prominent stream of thought in the Republican Party that it is time to resuscitate state power as a check to the federal government.
“I would find it fairly unlikely that this would get traction on the national level,” Henson said. “On the other hand, it’s not the first we’ve heard of this.”
Democrats were quick to denounce Abbott’s plan Friday, saying the governor has misplaced priorities.
“America added 292,000 new jobs in December. But under Abbott, Texas fell to sixth in job creation, remains the uninsured capitol of the nation, wages and incomes remain far too low for hardworking families, our neighborhood schools are still underfunded, and college education is slipping out of reach,” Texas Democratic Party Deputy Executive Director Manny Garcia said in a statement. “Texas families deserve serious solutions, not Tea Party nonsense.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas issued a statement with similar sentiment.
“Governor Abbott, as Texans, we prefer the Framers’ plan. Don’t mess with the Constitution,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas.
But Democrats haven’t been the only ones to chide the idea of fiddling with the Constitution.
Last year, House legislators filed measures calling for such a convention. State Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, unleashed a screed against the proposal when it came before the Senate State Affairs Committee in May. He compared the idea to “a petulant teenager who’s lost a few basketball games and plans to burn down the gymnasium.”
“The constitution has served us well for over 200 years. The problem is not the constitution,” Estes said, adding that the solution is to elect more conservative lawmakers. “Slap a bumper sticker for Ted Cruz on your car and get after it and knock yourself out.”
Estes went on to promise a filibuster if the measure came to the Senate floor.
[H/T The Dallas Morning News – Trailblazers]