Sen. David Long’s proposal for a national constitutional convention is a great civics lesson for Hoosiers – but the potential disadvantages of such a convention far outweigh its benefits.
Long, the president pro tem of the state Senate, rightly killed a proposed bill that would have attempted to allow state legislators to trump the U.S. Supreme Court in deciding the constitutionality of a federal law. In essence, the bill would have allowed the legislature to vote on the constitutionality of a federal law and, if lawmakers deemed it unconstitutional, make it a crime to enforce such a law.
The proposal is in itself unconstitutional and a recipe for anarchy. While framers of the U.S. Constitution were adamant about states’ rights, they also saw the danger in allowing each state to decide which federal laws it wanted to follow and which ones to ignore. So they wrote the Supremacy Clause (see box), which makes clear that federal law supersedes state law.
The original proposal that Long killed was prompted by the Affordable Care Act and the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled it constitutional. Long pointed out that Indiana cannot simply say it disagrees with the U.S. Supreme Court and ignore the court’s decision. The option that is available to states, though, is to seek to change the U.S. Constitution – and Long followed through by seeking to initiate such a change.
Long, who as Senate leader rarely authors bills and resolutions, blasted the federal government during a floor speech for sticking its nose into issues best left to states and promoted the constitutional convention as a way to limit federal overreach. The founders gave us this process, Long said. They expected the states to use it. They expected us to use it as a key check on the overreaching powers of the federal government ... and it is happening now as never before.
The state Senate voted 32-18 to authorize a constitutional convention limited to Congress’ ability to tax and regulate commerce. The Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare was constitutional because it was the equivalent of a tax, and Congress is permitted to regulate interstate commerce.
For a constitutional convention to take place, the Indiana House and 33 other state legislatures would have to approve it, then 38 states would have to approve any amendments resulting from the convention. Though the Constitution has 27 amendments, none were a result of a constitutional convention, which has never taken place since the original one, in 1787.
Opening the constitution to widespread changes – even if limited to taxes and commerce – is a dangerous proposition, particularly in today’s political climate. The resulting language could easily go beyond health care and could well benefit special interests and the largest states while hurting a majority of individual Americans.
Republican Sen. Sue Glick of LaGrange explained the potential when she spoke Tuesday against the measure.
If you believe Indiana can control this convention, you should vote yes, Glick said. But this issue may run away. We need to take that into account. I do not believe we the members of the Senate or the state of Indiana are ready at this time to take this step.
Yes, many Americans do not like the health care law, and many feel betrayed by the conservative Supreme Court in upholding it. But the majority of voters essentially endorsed the law when re-electing President Obama. Rewriting the Constitution because someone does not like a particular law, a particular court decision or the outcome of an election is a dangerous step and an even more dangerous precedent.