November 7, 2017

A Constitutional Convention Is A Risky and Dangerous Way to Amend the U.S. Constitution

Kids Forward Executive Director Ken Taylor delivered the following remarks on November 7, 2017 at the Wisconsin State Capitol at an event organized in opposition to Assembly Joint Resolution 21, which would call for a constitutional convention—something that would put all of our fundamental freedoms and basic rights at risk.

Thank you for coming out to oppose this extremely risky and dangerous way to amend the U.S. Constitution and set national fiscal policy.

I’m Ken Taylor, Executive Director of Kids Forward. Kids Forward works to inspire action and promote access to opportunity for every kid, every family, and every community in Wisconsin. At Kids Forward, we are concerned that this resolution would make it harder for families to provide for their children, and that it could strip away constitutional rights that Wisconsin residents depend on to protect their families.

The resolution under consideration in the state senate calls for the passage of a constitutional amendment limiting the ability of the federal government to spend money, a restriction that would make recessions deeper and longer. Requiring a balanced budget every year, no matter the state of the economy, would tip weak economies into recession and make recessions longer and deeper, causing very large job losses. Requiring every budget to be balanced could also make it harder to respond adequately to costly disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes.

Some outside groups pushing this resolution on Wisconsin misleadingly liken the federal budget to a family’s budget, saying that if a family must balance its budget, so should the federal government. But families often need flexibility to spread costs out over several years to make important investments like paying college tuition or getting a mortgage on a house. It’s no less important for the federal government to have the flexibility necessary to make important investments in America’s families. Yet this amendment would make it harder, if not impossible, to make those investments.

A balanced budget amendment would be damaging enough on its own terms. But the potential for harm doesn’t stop there. It’s not clear whether there would be any limit on the ability of the convention to make extensive changes to the U.S. Constitution, even including changes to the procedure for ratification of amendments.

I think we all know the U.S. Constitution isn’t perfect. At the time it was written, the Constitution explicitly recognized and protected slavery, and it was long used to deny women basic rights. Over time, citizens recognized the need for improvement and amended the Constitution 27 times, using a process in which states ratify a specific amendment that was approved by Congress.

The process that Wisconsin senators are voting on today uses a different process, one that sends delegates to a Convention who then have wide latitude to propose a variety of changes to the Constitution. Some believe that a constitutional convention could even rewrite the process for states to ratify amendments. The one and only constitutional convention was held in 1787, when delegates made wholesale changes to the nation’s governing documents. With so little precedent, there’s no way to know for sure how far a constitutional convention could go in rolling back our basic freedoms.

If 34 states pass resolutions calling for a convention, then Congress must convene one. 27 states have already passed a resolution; let’s not let Wisconsin be number 28. A constitutional convention will risk our nation’s fundamental rights and freedoms and will open the door to special interest groups, all of whom will want their narrow benefit enshrined in the constitution. The current period of political turmoil and divisiveness should not become the first time in more than 200 years that we throw our Constitution up for grabs. Thank you.”