“We gotta protect our phony-baloney jobs, gentlemen!”

— Mel Brooks, as Gov. William J. Lepetomane in “Blazing Saddles”

There’s been a proposal sliding along the boundary between conservatism and libertarianism for several years that never gained enough traction to be worth addressing — until now.

That’s because it surfaced multiple times this month. Voiced by one of the remaining Republican candidates for president, it was also promoted by the Republican governor of Texas and two conservative legal and public policy scholars with distinguished credentials.

To wit: Is it time for the requisite number of state legislatures to call for an “Article 5 Convention” to propose amending the U.S. Constitution?

The goal would be to rein in a federal government many see as increasingly harsh and distant from the people who established it.

Our Founders knew that an uncertain future might require alterations to the Constitution, and thus provided, in its Article 5, two ways to amend it. Only one of the methods has so far been used: the approval of amendments by two-thirds of both houses of Congress and then their ratification by three-fourths of the legislatures of the states.

The other method allows two-thirds of all state legislatures to call for a “Convention for Proposing Amendments.” Any it approved would still have to be ratified by three-quarters of the states.

Many conservatives don’t like the idea, believing that even if the proposals specified a limited purpose, nothing could prevent delegates from adopting any hair-on-fire idea. Still, none could become law without 38 states’ approval.

But now Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Hoover Institution public policy guru Thomas Sowell and University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds have added their support.

On Jan. 6, Rubio penned an op-ed in USA Today supporting such a convention, within limits: “The amendment process must be approached with caution, which is why I believe the agenda should be limited to ideas that reduce the size and scope of the federal government, such as imposing term limits on Congress and the Supreme Court and forcing fiscal responsibility through a balanced budget requirement.”

Such chances are necessary “because government has been hijacked by politicians and bureaucrats who disregard the will of the people, rack up trillions in debt and expand the federal bureaucracy into more and more aspects of our lives.”

Texas Gov. Abbott’s contribution echoes those themes, but with a more detailed nine-point plan he laid out Jan. 8.

He includes a balanced budget proposal, long a conservative goal, but he also seeks amendments to prohibit federal agencies from “creating federal law” and “preempting state law,” things that constitutionally are the provenance of Congress.

Considering that the U.S. Supreme Court already sits as an unelected nine-member constitutional convention every time it meets, he would allow a two-thirds majority of the states to override a Court decision and require a seven-justice super-majority vote for rulings that invalidate a democratically enacted law.

He would also limit the federal government to the powers expressly delegated to it in the Constitution, give state officials the power to sue federal officials in federal court and allow a two-thirds majority of the states to override a federal law or regulation.

This was greeted with outrage on the left, but as Thomas Sowell pointed out in a Jan. 11 column, “The irony in all this is that no one has messed with the Constitution more or longer than the political left over the past hundred years.”

Sowell noted, “Is it better to have the Constitution amended de facto by a 5-to-4 vote of the Supreme Court? By the unilateral actions of a president? By administrative rulings by anonymous bureaucrats in federal agencies, to whom federal judges ‘defer’?”

And as Glenn Harlan Reynolds put it in his weekly USA Today column Jan. 18, “The real fear, I suspect, is that the proposals urged by Abbott, which would roll back much of the political class’s successful power-grab over the past century, would prove popular enough to pass. If that happened, the federal government would become both smaller and more accountable, two political-class nightmares.

“A smaller government would mean fewer phony-baloney jobs for college graduates with few marketable skills but demonstrated political loyalty. It would mean fewer opportunities for tax dollars to be directed to people and entities with close ties to people in power. It would mean less ability to engage in social engineering and ‘nudges’ aimed at what are all-too-often seen as those dumb rubes in flyover country.

“The smaller the government, the fewer the opportunities for graft and self-aggrandizement — and graft and self-aggrandizement are what our political class is all about.”

As Sowell noted, the Constitution’s preamble begins with “We The People.” Perhaps we need to find out if those words still have any meaning.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]


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