Pennsylvania’s First District’s self-anointed “moderate” Republican congressman, Brian Fitzpatrick, is teaming up with a QAnon-defending Texas Congressman and a New Mexico Congresswoman to co-sponsor a resolution that would potentially “cause political and economic chaos” throughout the entire country. Like Fitzpatrick, Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) and Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-NM) have avoided calls for accountability and justice for the January 6 insurrection.
If Republicans can flip the U.S. House and Senate in November, then House Concurrent Resolution 101 (H. Con. Res. 101) sponsored by Arrington and cosponsored by Herrell and Fitzpatrick could lead to a Constitutional Convention. The resolution calls for “an Article V Convention for proposing amendments to the Constitution of the United States and stipulating the ratification of such amendments by State conventions, a vote of We the People, and for other purposes.” Article V of the U.S. Constitution also states that if two-thirds of state legislatures call for a convention – 19 GOP-controlled legislatures already have – then a Constitutional Convention must be convened where amendments can be proposed and potentially passed.
Given the number of right-wing, Republican-dominated state legislatures – like Pennsylvania’s – we would be facing a situation in which extremists could be hand-picking convention delegates to rewrite our country’s founding document.
The “We the People” lauded by Fitzpatrick’s resolution in this case would in practice actually mean that a small number of people represented with a majority of Constitutional Convention delegates could fundamentally change American democracy. If those convention delegates are appointed by right-wing, gerrymandered state legislatures they would effectively ensure minority rule for the foreseeable future.
This should terrify people.
Just look at the current Pennsylvania state legislature, or to the U.S. Supreme Court, and imagine the issues and rights that would be altered, rolled back, or eliminated: abortion, education, civil rights, separation of church and state, gun rights, drilling rights, etc.
“It’s very troubling to see the movement [calling for a Constitutional Convention] potentially gaining momentum during a time when the country as a whole is struggling so much with our multi-racial democracy,” Carolyn Shapiro, law professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, told Newsweek. “Where we have strong authoritarian tendencies emerging, we have structures in place that might give those authoritarian tendencies the ability to gain power and increasingly gain power. The Constitutional Convention might very well facilitate that.”
Former PA Republican U.S. Senator Rick Santorum joined the Convention of States Action in September 2021 as a senior adviser. The group is a partially Koch Brothers-bankrolled group advocating for state legislatures to call for a Constitutional Convention. He spoke at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) policy summit last year where he celebrated how gerrymandering has given an outsized, and obviously unfair influence to conservative rural voters, allowing minority rule in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other states across the country.
“Rural voters, even though there are fewer of them … actually have an outsize granted power under this process,” said Santorum in leaked audio obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). “And we have the opportunity as a result of that to have a supermajority, even though … we may not even be in an absolute majority when it comes to the people who agree with us, but because of the way the concentration of votes has changed in this country, we can actually accomplish things.”
Thanks to partisan gerrymandering after the 2010 U.S. census, CMD pointed out in a report last month that “Republicans now control 62 of 99 legislative chambers, compared to 37 before 2010, and they control both chambers in 30 states.”
And here is the thing: Once a Constitutional Convention is called, anything goes. In other words, a Constitutional Convention can not be limited to a single amendment (like Fitzpatrick’s ridiculous Balanced Budget Amendment, which makes for a good sound bite, but would be a disaster as a matter of policy and governing), despite what some proponents claim.
“Everything’s on the table,” Georgetown Law Professor David Super told the Bucks County Beacon.
The whole point of states pushing for this is to go around Congress and to be free of any constraints. And part of the problem is that Article V is so vague, there are no set in stone rules as to how the convention would be run. Even though 38 state delegates would be needed, in theory, to ratify proposed amendments, that could be thrown out the window as well.
“There’s no legal authority to constrain what they do,” added Super. “The convention we had in 1787 was supposed to be for the limited purposes of improving commerce among the states. And it completely junked the Articles of Confederation, wrote a whole new document, and ignored the ratification procedures in the article.”
A more democratic process of amending the Constitution has already been used 27 times. If two-thirds of both the House and Senate pass a constitutional amendment, it then gets submitted to the states where three-fourths of the legislatures would be required to ratify it.
“The Constitution gives us an opportunity to amend it. And we’ve done that a couple of dozen times through that process,” Viki Harrison, Director of Constitutional Convention and Protecting Dissent Programs Common Cause, told the Bucks County Beacon. “And that process actually includes the people of the United States. This process does not, at all. It completely cuts [out] the actual people.”
But for the Koch-backed campaign pushing this Constitutional Convention scheme, democracy is an obstacle, not an end game.
“If the Right’s plan for a convention holds sway,” notes the Center for Media and Democracy in a report released last month, “delegates will be hand-picked by state politicians, leaving voters out of the process entirely, and each state will get one vote, regardless of size.” And given current state legislature representation, this would give Republicans a “supermajority.”
Far-right former U.S. Senator Santorum told Christian broadcasters in March that the country was in a “break the glass” moment and that a state legislature-led Constitutional Convention was the way to “reclaim America,” as The Washington Times put it.
They now can count Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick as a devout soldier in their constitutional crusade.