January 31, 2022 8:33pm
Updated: January 31, 2022 10:26pm
Two more states, Nebraska and Wisconsin, last week joined the call for a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution, imparting renewed momentum to a grassroots movement advocating a never-before-used constitutional process which, supporters say, will help transfer power back from Washington, D.C., to the states and the American people.
Since its formation nine years ago, the Convention of States Project (COS) has been mobilizing through its nationwide network of activists to push states to pursue something they've never done before.
Under Article V of the Constitution, states have the power to call a convention to propose constitutional amendments without the approval of Congress. For this to happen, two-thirds of state legislatures (34) must formally support the convention.
This method has never been used to amend the Constitution. All of the existing 27 amendments have been proposed by Congress, which requires the support of two-thirds of both the House and Senate.
COS's mission is to call a convention of states where participants can propose amendments limited to those that will "impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit its power and jurisdiction, and impose term limits on its officials and members of Congress."
On Friday, Nebraska became the 17th state to call for such a convention, passing a legislative resolution that puts supporters of the effort halfway to their goal of getting 34 states. The legislature will rescind the resolution by Feb. 1, 2027, if efforts to convene the states fail by then.
"It's encouraging that we respect the Constitution and the intent of the founding fathers when it comes to states having equal footing with the federal government," said Nebraska state Sen. Steve Halloran (R), who introduced the measure.
Halloran added that he pushed the resolution because Congress "cannot control its runaway spending" and the federal government has usurped the authority of states.
"The states need to exercise their constitutional authority by proposing amendments through an Article V convention of states to restrain the federal government from driving our country into insolvency," he told Newsweek.
Nebraska passed its resolution just three days after the Wisconsin legislature passed a similar measure last Tuesday. Wisconsin was the first state to call for a convention since Mississippi in 2019.
The dramatic impact of COVID-19 was largely responsible for the years-long gap between 2019 and last week, according to Mark Meckler, president of COS. But during that time, he added, COS kept working, and the movement's grassroots grew dramatically.
COS now boasts some five million activists and supporters who are involved nationally, including people in every state legislative and congressional district. Today, we're seeing "pent-up demand" for a return to a government of, by, and for the people, said Meckler, who spoke to Just the News about COS.
"The fundamental question facing the country isn't what we should do but who decides," Meckler explained. "Most decisions are made at the federal level outside the control of the American people. Our primary goal is to bring power back to states and the people."
Meckler, a cofounder of Tea Party Patriots, said one reason why he's involved in COS is because the Tea Party movement didn't work.
Despite a historically successful election for Republicans in 2010, many of those elected "became part of the swamp," he said, and conservatives didn't get the policies they wanted.
"We have a structural problem in Washington, D.C., not a personnel problem," said Meckler, who cofounded COS with constitutional attorney Mike Farris. The purpose of COS is to address the more important structural problem, he added.
Some critics say the project has taken too long and still has a long way to go — Meckler is optimistic COS will get up to 22 states this year. But that's precisely the point, according to Meckler.
"It's taking a long time because that's how the founders intended the process to work," he explained. "They didn't want us to be able to change the Constitution easily, because people would change it to go with the fads of their time. The founders wanted changes to be thoughtful and about building consensus over many years. That was the founders' vision."
Other critics have argued COS is a partisan initiative, noting most of the states in support of it are red. Besides Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Mississippi, the other states that have passed the Convention of States resolution are: Georgia, Alaska, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arizona, North Dakota, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Utah.
This isn't and shouldn't be a partisan issue, according to Meckler, who explained COS isn't advocating any kind of policy prescriptions.
"California can be as liberal as it damn well pleases," he said.
Meckler lamented how this movement has become partisan, speculating it may have become that way since Republicans and conservatives are the ones who started it so progressives wouldn't want to join. High-profile conservatives such as Marc Levin, Sean Hannity, and Ben Shapiro have endorsed the Convention of States Project.
The other major criticism, which is bipartisan, of COS concerns the "runaway convention" — the idea that a convention of states would be too unstructured and could lead to a torrent of drastic changes to the Constitution.
"The motivation for the convention is real and valid," said Nebraska state Sen. John McCollister (R). "But there are simply too many questions outstanding."
"We're setting in motion a process that we cannot control and we do not know the end of," argued Wisconsin state Sen. Roger Roth (R). "Using this vehicle to address these issues is setting in motion the possibility to unravel and destroy the Constitution as we know it."
Meckler called such concerns "absurd," noting that, per the Constitution, whatever comes out of a convention of states would need to be ratified by three-fourths, or 38, of the state legislatures.
"The convention itself has zero authority beyond making suggestions," he said. "The only measures that could win the support of 38 state legislatures are ones that have wide support, such as term limits and a balanced budget amendment. Things that are controversial and partisan won't have the support."
COS has faced especially virulent backlash from the political left. In 2017, 230 progressive groups signed onto a statement opposing a convention of states, which, the coalition argued, would put "all Americans' constitutional rights and privileges ... at risk and up for grabs."
Since then, several progressive groups have described COS's mission as an effort to "rewrite" the Constitution to suit their policy preferences.
Meckler had a simple message for Americans considering whether to support COS: "If you believe that you should decide for yourself how to live your life and that Washington, D.C., shouldn't, then you're a supporter."
Beyond the 17 states that have approved a convention of states, 8 others have passed the measure in one chamber of the legislature and 15 others have active legislation in the works this year, according to COS's website.