It’s often said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Reforming campaign finance laws to limit the influence of money in American politics? That certainly qualifies as a good intention. But calling for a convention of the states to float amendments to the U.S. Constitution? That’s a perilous path this country shouldn’t go down.
The Journal Star editorial board’s objection to this idea isn’t because of its stated goal. We oppose the idea because of the slippery slope that could result, one that has no guardrails to prevent major, wholesale changes to our nation’s seminal legal document.
Article V of the U.S. Constitution permits a convention to propose constitutional amendments with approval by two-thirds of state legislatures, and ratifying those amendments would take a three-fourths majority. Such a mechanism, though, has never been successfully used to convene such a gathering.
Therein lies the problem: Without precedent or even clear parameters, a constitutional convention could easily be hijacked or run off the rails. The Constitution spells out no operational scope or framework if one were to be called.
Though the convention Omaha Sen. Bob Krist recommends Nebraska join, by way of LR268, proposes to fix a clear wrong, no legal means currently exists to guarantee that the convention is bound to address only the single topic that led to its creation. And that scares us.
It’s the same reason we resisted the idea when Crete Sen. Laura Ebke suggested it in a different context last year. Her LR6, trapped by a filibuster, sought to enlist Nebraska as one of the requisite 34 states to request a constitutional convention that would reduce the size and scope of the federal government.
Even efforts to clarify and expressly restrict what a Nebraska delegation could do at such a convention, as Hastings Sen. Steve Halloran seeks to do with LB1058, would be insufficient. While delineating precisely how Nebraskans are to act is responsible, it would have no bearing on the other 49 states.
Part of the reason the Constitution has been so successful is its longevity. Even after the Constitution’s ratification in 1787, it remains the document by which all laws and regulations are judged. One of the first constitutional law cases any student in 2018 studies is Marbury v. Madison, a watershed decision that established judicial review — a ruling issued in 1803.
A constitutional convention presents a classic case of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Constitution is too important to risk fouling up.
Just because those who support a gathering of that nature promise it would remain narrow in scope doesn’t mean it will. There’s simply no protection against it, and, as such, Nebraska shouldn’t sign onto a convention of states.
Again, good intentions can easily pave a dangerous path.