President Joe Biden recently spoke of “the spirit of the nation” in a primetime address, calling out rightwing forces for their countless efforts to weaken, if not topple, our democracy. In more ways than one, Biden’s address was prophetic. Aside from many Republicans pushing the “great lie” that the 2020 election was stolen and attempting to occupy elected seats with persons willing to violate the vote of the people, there is a conservative movement ongoing to substantially change the US constitution.
The right already has a majority on the Supreme Court and is reaping the benefits, with rulings ranging from Dobbs to Bruen that drastically rewrite the constitution in defiance of tradition and reasonable legal reasoning. However, right-wing elements are not content to wait for the court to rewrite the constitution. Instead, they have set out to practically rewrite our founding text.
Why bother with constitutional interpretation when the actual language may be changed? This right-wing approach may have far more serious ramifications for our country and democracy than the right’s packing of the court or the Capitol attack on January 6.
Our founding fathers intended the constitution to be changed and felt that modifications would help the text endure. As a result, they inserted two alternative processes for amending the wording in Article V of the constitution.
Only one of the processes has been used to obtain all 27 changes to the constitution: having two-thirds of both houses of Congress propose an amendment to the constitution and then having that amendment accepted by three-quarters of state legislatures.
However, there is a second mechanism. The second option is for two-thirds of all state legislatures (34 or more) to apply for a constitutional convention, followed by three-quarters of all state legislatures or state ratifying conventions to ratify any modifications presented by the convention.
To be clear, no constitutional convention has ever been conducted under Article V. Furthermore, the constitution contains no guidelines for how a constitutional convention should be conducted in actuality. Nothing in the constitution specifies how delegates will be chosen, allocated, or how modifications will be submitted or agreed to by delegates. And there is little historical precedent to help answer these essential concerns. This means that in such a conference, practically any amendment might be submitted, giving delegates great ability to participate in political and constitutional redrafting.
A convention would mark a turning point in American history. And this is precisely what right-wing forces are depending on. They regard the constitution’s lack of clarity on how a convention should be handled as an opportunity to study new ideas of constitutional authority and change, rather than a discouragement.
For more than a decade, the Convention of States Project, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), and other rightwing organisations have worked to encourage state legislators to submit petitions for an Article V convention. This campaign has recently gathered a who’s who of far-right allies, including Trumpist attorneys John Eastman and Jenna Ellis, as well as financial backing from conservative megadonors.
As legislators in numerous states continue to lean conservative, owing in part to political and racial gerrymandering, groups on the right see a more plausible and perhaps immediate road to collecting the 34 applications required to convene a convention. Some members of Congress have even suggested that the constitutional threshold has been met and that Congress must call a convention. While their counting is questionable, the momentum they may build is very concerning.
Those participating in this movement have stated unequivocally their extreme goals: to dismantle modern government and the century-old New Deal consensus, reverting the country to the troubled, fragmented periods when the federal government could do little to provide for national welfare or defence.
A convention would also provide a chance for the right to attempt to outlaw abortion in the United States, to further restrict voting rights, and to cement their view of the Second Amendment. Simply said, the possibilities for radical rewriting are practically limitless, given the constitution’s utter absence of constraints on an Article V conference.
Far-right groups are moving ahead into this wide constitutional unknown, similar to prior attempts to disrupt the 2020 election using anti-democratic ideas. They are already staging fake conventions in order to manipulate the process and outcome if a genuine convention occurs.
The US constitution is far from flawless. The existence of Article V demonstrates that even the founders anticipated revisions. George Washington famously stated that the constitution was “not without flaws,” but he encouraged his fellow citizens to adopt the instrument because those flaws might be ironed out over time.
Constitutional amendment might be an acceptable approach of fixing the constitution’s basic flaws. That being said, any discussion on how to alter the constitution must be open, inclusive, and well-informed. What right-wing forces are pursuing is anything but. They are only interested in political outcomes and have tried to keep their efforts hidden. They do not appear to be interested in a democratic, representational process.
Biden was correct. Our country’s soul is under jeopardy. This extreme-right scheme might plunge the country into a constitutional crisis even more devastating and far-reaching than January 6. Citizens of all ideological shades who are concerned should speak out against this drastic initiative. The extreme right has profited from keeping its activities relatively hidden. That has to change. These activities must be brought to a halt in order for our constitutional democracy to be protected.
Ilona is a research journalist working performing her duties as chief editor at this news station. She is a talented writer and comes up with facts everybody wants to know.