You might not have noticed it, but yesterday was Bill of Rights Day. It's an easy event to overlook because it's not as though throngs of people took to the streets to celebrate. My desk calendar doesn't even mention the day, although every Oct. 16 I am reminded that it's National Boss Day.
It would be odd to celebrate the Bill of Rights by trashing it. Yet that could happen if Congress is forced to convene a Constitutional Convention. Known informally as a "con-con," such an event would essentially throw the Constitution up for a rewrite. This is a bad idea.
Anyone who took Civics in high school knows that the Constitution can be amended if two-thirds of both the House of Representatives and the Senate approve an amendment, and it is then ratified by three-fourths of the states. But there is another process. Article V also states that a Constitutional Convention must take place if two-thirds of the states (currently 34) pass resolutions calling for one.
In years past, some progressives have supported the idea. They have argued that it might be a good vehicle for adding the Equal Rights Amendment or some other revision to the Constitution. Other folks have pushed for a con-con to append a Balanced Budget Amendment.
Here's the problem: Once a con-con is convened, all issues are on the table. There would be no way to limit the discussion to equal rights for women, balanced budgets or any other single-issue. The event would quickly become a free-for-all. If the process were taken over by the extreme right wing, there's no telling what might end up pasted onto the Constitution.
This issue has been in the news lately because legislators in Ohio suddenly decided to hold a hearing on whether the state should call for a con-con, ostensibly with the aim of adding a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. The move caught many people off guard, and members of the Ohio House of Representative's Judiciary Committee decided to postpone the vote (perhaps indefinitely) after several witnesses opposed the move.
Had Ohio endorsed the con-con call, it would have been the 33rd state to do so – one shy of the required number. (Three states that have called for a con-con have since rescinded the vote, but it's unclear if they had the authority to do that.)
Oddly enough, this is one of those issues that unites the left and the right. Neither side wants to see a con-con. I disagree with just about everything Religious Right warhorse Phyllis Schlafly says, but over the years she has sounded the alarm every time the con-con rears its head – and Americans United has often joined her. She did so again over the Ohio incident. (Beware! This is Townhall link. Keep a bottle of Maalox handy.)
Phyllis and her far-right brigades fear a con-con will be taken over by those on the far left, who will add progressive amendments to the Constitution. Those of us on the other side worry the right-wingers will take over the process and run amok, eviscerating the separation of church and state and moving America close to a theocracy.
Due to the standoff, the status quo remains in place: No con-con.
As someone who likes the Bill of Rights the way it is, that's all right by me.