The irony of Marco Rubio as a darling of the Republican establishment and Beltway media is that, in a normal election cycle, the Florida senator’s radicalism on a wide range of issues would likely position him as one of the more radical candidates in recent memory.
A few weeks ago, however, Rubio’s far-right worldview came into sharper focus when he endorsed his most outrageous idea to date. The GOP senator has, with great enthusiasm, thrown his support behind a constitutional convention, touting his position in speeches, interviews, and this USA Today op-ed published last week.
The framers of our Constitution allowed for a constitutional convention because they knew our citizens were the ultimate defense against an overbearing federal government. They gave the American people, through their state representatives, the power to call a convention made up of at least 34 states, where delegates could then propose amendments that would require the support of 38 states to become law.This method of amending our Constitution has become necessary today because of Washington’s refusal to place restrictions on itself. 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.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) made headlines on Friday for endorsing a similar plan, though the right-wing governor has an even more expansive agenda in mind: a convention that would re-write the Constitution to allow states to nullify federal laws.
For the American mainstream, the idea of a constitutional convention to achieve far-right goals probably seems pretty obscure, to the point that I suspect much of the country doesn’t even realize it’s a possibility, but the truth is this an increasingly important threat. Let’s take a minute to unwrap the details – because if a candidate like Rubio is making this a central element of his national platform, the public should understand the danger to their system of government.
This gets a little tricky, so it’s probably best to approach this in a Q&A explainer.
Rubio keeps referring to an “Article V convention of states.” What does that mean?
Ordinarily, proponents of constitutional amendments look for two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate. There is, however, an alternative route: Article V of the Constitution says two-thirds of the states can call for a convention to consider amendments, which would then need to be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
Do 34 states currently support a convention?
Estimates vary on exactly how many states are on board, but just about everyone agrees that proponents are not yet close to 34.
Since the Constitution’s creation, how many of these conventions have we seen?
None. This would be the first since the original constitutional convention in 1787.
What does the president have to do with the convention process?
Actually, nothing, but Rubio is looking for ways to pander to far-right extremists, who’ve quietly tried to build support for a convention, so the senator has stumbled onto this, vowing to become an “Article V convention of states” cheerleader if he’s elected to the White House. As a procedural matter, however, he would have no real authority in making a convention happen or what would unfold if such a convention took place.
Is Rubio alone in supporting the idea of a convention?
Occasionally, progressive leaders will push for a convention as a way to circumvent Congress on campaign-finance reform, but most proponents are on the far-right fringe. The religious right movement, in particular, has pushed aggressively for the idea. Among 2016 candidates, however, Rubio is the only major contender pushing the idea.
How, exactly, would this work in practice?
No one can say with confidence how such a convention would play out since there is no precedent for such an event and the relevant constitutional language adds little clarity. Probably the most significant question is scope: Rubio says he wants a narrow convention focused solely on the amendments he likes, but there’s a real possibility that once the constitutional door is open, convention delegates could consider literally any changes, “even if it included overhauling the entire constitutional system” of the United States.
Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe wrote not long ago that convening a convention would be “putting the whole Constitution up for grabs.”
How would convention delegates be chosen?
No one knows for sure; it’s generally assumed that Congress would have to establish some kind of rules for the process. Many scholars fear, however, that a radicalized Congress would stack the deck, effectively rigging the process to ensure far-right outcomes.
What’s more, there’s no reason to assume a convention would be bound by congressional guidance. The late Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger once wrote, “[T]here is no way to effectively limit or muzzle the actions of a Constitutional Convention. The Convention could make its own rules and set its own agenda. Congress might try to limit the convention to one amendment or one issue, but there is no way to assure that the Convention would obey.”
Rubio says this is the only way to get a balanced-budget amendment and term limits added to the Constitution.
Perhaps, though a balanced-budget amendment is the worst idea in the history of bad ideas.
As for term limits, we already have them: they’re called elections. What Rubio is pushing is a system in which the government places new restrictions on who Americans can vote for: if we want to re-elect officials we believe are serving us well, Rubio wants to change the Constitution so that our choice is taken from us. In other words, he wants to impose an arbitrary mechanism that artificially blocks Americans’ right to re-elect our own representatives, regardless of our wishes, in the hopes of keeping experienced policymakers out of government by legal fiat.
Weren’t these ideas considered and rejected 20 years ago?
Why would a politician who claims to be focused on the future invest so much energy on proposals discredited decades ago?
It’s this contradiction that strikes at the heart of Rubio’s entire candidacy.