The measure’s chief sponsor is Rep. Bob Martwick (D-Chicago), but it has several GOP co-sponsors. The proposal was unanimously approved by the House Executive Committee on March 30th.
While Illinois citizens remain transfixed by the daily news of events in Springfield and Washington, D.C., a serious threat to our democracy has been quietly gathering steam. Through House Joint Resolution 32, a bipartisan group of State Representatives have issued a call for the State of Illinois to request a convention to amend the Constitution of the United States. This proposal is part of a well-funded highly-coordinated national effort by conservative advocacy groups who are seeking to bypass the Congress and use the vague language in Article V of the Constitution to fundamentally alter the nature of our democracy.
“Every Illinois citizen should be terribly concerned about the reckless calls in this state for a constitutional convention,” warned Brian Gladstein, Executive Director of Common Cause Illinois. “There simply aren’t any rules to limit the nature or scope of what could put on the table once a convention is called and provide megadonors the opportunity to restrict or completely take away some of our most fundamental rights. We just can’t risk it.”
Back in 2015, Common Cause issued a report entitled The Dangerous Path: Big Money’s Plan to Shred the Constitution, that laid out its concerns about calls for a constitutional convention, including:
THREAT OF A RUNAWAY CONVENTION: There is no language appearing in the United States Constitution that would prevent a constitutional convention from being expanded in scope to issues not raised in convention calls passed by the state legislatures, and therefore could lead to a runaway convention.
INFLUENCE OF SPECIAL INTERESTS: An Article V convention would open the Constitution to revisions at a time of extreme gerrymandering and polarization amid unlimited political spending. It could allow special interests and the wealthiest among us to re-write the rules governing our system of government.
LACK OF CONVENTION RULES: There are no rules governing constitutional conventions. A convention would be an unpredictable Pandora’s Box; the last one, in 1787, resulted in a brand new Constitution. Indeed, the group that is advocating for HJR 32 openly discusses the possibility of using the process to undo hard-won civil rights and civil liberties advances and undermine basic rights extended throughout history as our nation strove to deliver on the promise of a democracy that works for everyone.
UNCERTAIN RATIFICATION PROCESS: A convention could re-define the ratification process (which currently requires 38 states to approve any new amendments) to make it easier to pass new amendments, including those considered at the convention. This happened in 1787, when the convention changed the threshold necessary for ratification.
THREAT OF LEGAL DISPUTES: No judicial, legislative, or executive body has been given a clear authority to settle disputes about a convention, opening the process to chaos and protracted legal battles that would threaten the functioning of our democracy and economy.
APPLICATION PROCESS UNCERTAINTY: There is no clear process on how Congress or
any other governmental body would count and add up Article V applications, or if Congress and the states could restrain the convention’s mandate based on those applications. Notably, a separate call for a constitutional convention seeking a federal balanced budget amendment that is being funded by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate juggernaut masquerading as a charity, insists that it is just six states shy of meeting the threshold, even though 16 of those state resolutions came from a failed attempt to call a convention decades ago.
POSSIBILITY OF UNEQUAL REPRESENTATION: It is unclear how states would choose delegates to a convention, how states and citizens would be represented in a convention, and who would ultimately get to vote on items raised in a convention.
The language in HJR 32 appears to have been pulled directly from ALEC’s model bill library, and perfectly illustrates the threat of a runaway convention. The measure generally calls for amendments imposing term limits for members of Congress and the judiciary, “fiscal restraints on the federal government,” and limits on the power of the federal government. The vague language in this measure was first introduced in 37 different state legislatures in 2015, and it has already been passed in nine states.
It should also be noted that it is not only conservative groups that are pressing for a constitutional convention. In fact, in 2014, the General Assembly issued another resolution seeking a constitutional amendment to overturn the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. That effort was primarily being lead by the left-leaning group known as Wolf PAC. Although Common Cause Illinois is committed to fighting against the corrosive presence of big money in our political system, it believed then as it does now that the risks associated with this plan are simply too great.
“We will continue to fight against any demand for an Article V convention, no matter who is leading the charge,” said Gladstein. “We are committed to safeguarding our democratic principles, and we hope that our elected officials in Springfield will join us in this fight.”