This month marks the fifth anniversary of the Convention of States Project. Having been involved with the effort for all five of those years, I have never been more convinced than now that our Constitution’s Article V process for a “convention for proposing amendments” holds the key to restoring our constitutional republic.
I took my first course in constitutional law as an undergraduate political science student. Throughout that semester, despite my earning high marks, I wondered if I was somehow missing something essential to understanding the Constitution. I simply could not grasp the connection between the text that I read there, on the one hand, and our actual federal government, on the other. How could a government granted so few powers in the Constitution wield such incredible authority over every aspect of its citizens’ lives?
My puzzlement persisted through law school, where the overwhelming majority of my studies were dedicated to reading and dissecting judges’ interpretations of the Constitution and other laws; not to reading and understanding the primary sources. I came to realize this approach follows the modern judicial trend of basing landmark constitutional decisions; not on the Constitution’s text and its meaning when it was written, but rather on the latest view of constitutional meaning, as expressed in the most recent court case on the issue.
Modern “interpretations” of the Constitution have stretched the meaning of the text to the point of absurdity – to the point where no average American could possibly tell you, even after a careful reading of the Constitution, what it will be deemed to actually permit or forbid. The functional application of the Constitution has been divorced from its text.
Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon is the explosion of constitutional “rights of privacy.” Mentioned nowhere in our written Constitution, such rights were allegedly discovered there by the Supreme Court in the 1960s, and said then to preclude states from regulating contraceptives. Today they are said to dictate whether and how states can prohibit abortion, among other things.
The problem we create when we model one generation’s landmark constitutional ruling after the last generation’s is illustrated by the childhood game of “telephone.” The child who starts the game clearly communicates an idea to the next child. But each subsequent child, rather than consulting the original source to understand the message, can only consult the child who heard the message most recently from another, secondary source. We know how this plays out: the child at the end of the line invariably announces a message that is not only far different from the one initially communicated, but is usually so nonsensical that it elicits an eruption of laughter from the other players.
Such, effectively, has been the course of our constitutional jurisprudence for over two centuries.
But unlike the children in the game of telephone, who are prohibited from consulting the original source for the message, our liberal legal elites have chosen to prefer the more recent “interpretation” of the Constitution over an objective historical analysis of its original language.
And thus our nation has become unmoored from its textual anchor. Some citizens are pleased with the ship’s new direction. But are the rest of us willing to entrust the future of our society to the particular predilection of whatever persons or parties manage to gain the helm?
If not – if we pine for the rule of law – then Article V holds the only practical solution. Since the dysfunction of our government is the result of the perversion of constitutional text, the logical solution is to overturn those perversions through explicit constitutional amendments that clarify the true meaning of the language that has been distorted.
Imagine, if you will, our Congress being limited – in clear, modern language – to using its taxing and spending powers solely for the performance of its specifically-listed duties under Article I of the Constitution. Imagine a Congress whose commerce power is specifically limited, as it was originally meant to be, to regulating the interstate transfer of goods. What we would have is a leaner, more efficient federal government, a drastically reduced federal bureaucracy, and a return of most domestic policy-making to the state and local governments, which are far more accountable to the people. What we would have, in short, is the restoration of federalism and the rule of law.
Learn more about this effort and join the other 3.5 million Americans working to make it happen at Convention of States.