This year has been a bad year for progressives. After the last election, the GOP controls the House, the Senate, and the presidency.
What’s even scarier than that, though, is that the GOP controls 33 state legislatures.
When they have 34, they can call a new constitutional convention, which would be the first since the Philadelphia convention.
What was the Philadelphia convention? Well, that would be the first (and so far, only) constitutional convention, which took place in 1787. It was a pretty big deal – that’s when George Washington, James Madison, and a bunch of other landowning white guys got together to redo the Articles of Confederation. They created the Constitution and figured out how the government would work.
According to Article V of the Constitution, a new constitutional convention can be called by either a two-thirds vote by both the House and the Senate, or by two-thirds of state legislatures agreeing to a convention. Two-thirds of 50 is 34, so the GOP is only one state legislature away from being able to make this happen.
Republicans may try to use this method to pass a balanced budget amendment, strip power from the federal government, ban abortion, or do any number of other regressive things.
No one knows what would happen if a new constitutional convention was called. The constitution doesn’t cover how delegates should be selected, how long a convention should last, or what a new convention can and can’t change. There’s no precedent for this.
The late Justice Scalia wasn’t a fan of the idea:
“I certainly would not want a constitutional convention. Whoa! Who knows what would come out of it?”
Former Chief Justice Warren E. Burger also didn’t like it:
“I have… repeatedly given my opinion that there is no way to limit or muzzle the actions of a Constitutional Convention. The Convention could make its own rules and set its own agenda… Whatever gain might be hoped for from a new Constitutional Convention could not be worth the risks involved.”
The silver lining here is that three-fourths of state legislatures (38) would be required to ratify any proposed amendments, so Democrats should be able to stop any major changes from happening. But even with that limitation, no one really knows how much damage a constitutional convention alone could do. It’d be one weird, wild experiment – and I, for one, would rather not see how that would play out.