As the Convention of States (COS) movement gains momentum, COS co-founder and President Mark Meckler, says he’s “shooting for 2024.”
“For the first time in our nation’s history,” the COS website announced, “17 of the requisite 34 states have called for a Convention of States to rein in federal power, impose fiscal restraints on Congress, and limit the terms of office for federal officials.” When he began his march toward a historic Article V Convention of States nearly a decade ago, few people ever heard the name Mark Meckler. It wasn’t until after social media company Parler anointed Meckler as its interim CEO a year ago that many people heard of a Convention of States. Today, 17 states have officially called for an Article V Convention of States, eight have passed the Convention of States Application through one chamber, and another 16 states are currently considering the Convention of States Resolution for 2022.
“Like all overnight successes, it’s been eight years in the making,” Meckler joked as he spoke with The Epoch Times. “Part of it is just the laying of the groundwork. For eight years we have been building our base of 5.2 million people. A lot of the legislators who were young freshmen and freshwomen when we started are now in leadership positions. They’re seeing this is a muscular political force to be reckoned with.”
To Meckler, Americans are now expressing “a pent-up demand.” During the shutdowns blamed on the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, legislators passed nothing of significance. Instead, Democrats used fear of the virus to exert control over the American people.
“Democrats have become so horrendous, they’ve become caricatures of themselves,” Meckler said. “People across the country and across party lines are horrified and they don’t want the federal government controlling their lives. So, you’re seeing this pushback and a resurgence of federalism in reaction to the Democrat’s overreach. This is exploding all over the country.”
Asked when he believed a Convention of States would happen, Meckler said “it’s definitely not going to happen this year. I would say 2024 and 2026 and I’m shooting for 2024.”
Article V of the United States Constitution states that “whenever two thirds of both Houses” of Congress “shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution.” As the Founding Fathers knew members of Congress would try to exceed their constitutional authority, they also made sure to include a provision that constitutional amendments can also be proposed by “two thirds” of the existing states. Currently, there are 50 states. Therefore, at least 34 of them would have to pass measures through committees and their respective Houses and Senates. Then they would have to be “ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths” of said 50 states before they were actually added as amendments to the Constitution.
According to Professor Robert G. Natelson, “the Founders believed that in any government there needed to be a power that was somewhat outside of the federal government that could put things right when things were going off the rails,” and few understand this moment better than him. As head of the Independence Institute’s Constitutional Studies Center and its Article V Information Center, he is widely acknowledged as the country’s leading scholar on the Constitution’s amendment procedure. He is also a nationally known constitutional scholar and author whose research into the history and legal meaning of the Constitution has been cited by state, federal, and the U.S. Supreme Court both by parties as well as by state and federal judges and justices.
“Congress was given the power to propose,” Natelson told The Epoch Times. “But because Congress could be the source of the problem, the states were also given the power to force the calling of a proposing body called the Convention of proposing amendments.”
From the time independence was declared in 1776, there have been over 40 conventions of states, most recently in 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. There were 11 prior to 1787. None were article V conventions. “It’s a well-used device,” Natelson asserted. “The one thing the Convention of States has never been used for it for proposing a constitutional amendment under Article Five.”
‘Way Past Time’
On Jan. 25, Wisconsin became the 16th state to pass a Convention of States Resolution. For state Rep. Dan Knodle (R-Wisc.) “it’s way past time to exercise this authority.
“It’s past due and finally, states have recognized that this authority has been sitting there in the Constitution, which we took an oath to uphold,” Knodle told The Epoch Times. “It has amazed me, and I wonder why the states have not exercised this authority that has been granted to us in the U.S. Constitution. I would hope that this was a beginning and that we get there with 34 states, that this is something states should be looking at taking advantage of the opportunity our framers put in the Constitution on our behalf.”
On Jan. 25, in a vote of 39–30 South Dakota representatives passed the Convention of States Resolution, (HJR 5001).
“We can’t sit by and not speak anymore,” state Rep. John Mills said on the floor of the state House chamber. “What happens when government grows? Freedom shrinks. I want my kids to have the freedom that I grew up with, and we’re not going to get there unless we change something.” Afterward, he was told by some of his opposing colleagues that his words inspired them to change their minds.
“That issue had been in front of the legislature every year I’ve been here,” Mills told The Epoch Times. “But even last year, it was like ‘oh, this again,’ and ‘I already know how I’m going to vote’ and ‘no one is going to change my mind,’ and there would be hardly any debate and then there would be the vote. Well, this year in the South Dakota House, we had a debate and it passed. I think what we’re seeing is we’re getting nudged out of our complacency. Maybe ‘nudged’ isn’t strong enough. We’re getting bludgeoned out of complacency.”
Despite the emails “from both sides” and “the droves” of South Dakota citizens Mills said are “reaching out to their legislators” in support of the measure, HJR5001 died in the South Dakota Senate on Feb. 9.
On Jan. 28, by a measure of 17–16, Nebraska became the seventeenth state to pass an Article V Convention of States resolution. Asked which legislator he believes has the most enthusiasm, Meckler was quick to name state Senator Steve Halloran (R-Nebraska).
“He was the guy who was willing to do whatever it took,” Meckler said. “He took bullets to make this happen. He pulled every procedural trick out of the bag. People said it was dead, he revived it. He put everything on the line to make this happen. As our legislator of the year last year, I would want to hold up Senator Halloran.”
Halloran introduced LR14 (pdf) at the start of the session as his priority bill. LR14 is limited to three proposals for amending the constitution: Impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power of jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and members of Congress.
“I’d like to say it was because most of my life I studied the Constitution but that wouldn’t be true,” Halloran confessed to The Epoch Times, adding that it wasn’t until he became a senator five years ago that this became an issue brought to his attention by Laura Ebke of the Platte Institute. “She paved the way for this. When she was no longer in office the baton was handed over to me and the more I became aware of the beautiful simple language of Article V of the Constitution it became evident to me that this was an avenue we need to pursue. Not just statewide but countrywide and pull back a federal government that has gone beyond its scope of constitutional authority. I came to the game late compared to a lot of people who have been studying the Constitution, but I’ve become a freshman at least in studying and understanding what the Constitution is.”
For Halloran, those who oppose a Convention of States don’t want to face reality.
“When you’re in a debate with those opposing an Article V Convention of States, the opposition typically doesn’t want to deal with facts, figures, and the reality of our debt,” Halloran said. “They subscribe to Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals (pdf) and throw out fear, uncertainty, and doubt; and that makes it a challenge because typically that’s not what a debate should be. So you find yourself trying to answer questions to resolve things that aren’t real. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt are emotions. At the conclusion, the satisfaction was the supermajority of Nebraska legislators agreeing it was the right thing to do for Nebraska to be calling for an Article Five Convention of States.”
Meckler agrees that most of the resistance comes from the “radical left.”
“Getting the last few people on board in the legislatures where we have a problem is generally not because an overwhelming majority of people are against it,” Meckler said. “Generally, what we find is a lot of Democrats are against it. We have a few Republicans in every legislature that have been swayed by the arguments of the radical left and they’re saying the same thing George Soros’s organizations are saying. So those are the outliers on the right and fundamentally, we will get past those folks, they are joining us one by one and when we get past those folks, we [will get] to 34 states pretty rapidly.”
Knodle believes opposition comes from those who don’t understand the process or purpose of a Convention of States.
“Some people get scared and say this can be a runaway convention and I say that’s just silly because one, the convention is just to propose amendments,” Knodle explained. “Then those amendments would have to be ratified by 38 states. So there’s nothing untoward that could come out of the convention that the states couldn’t stop.”
Natelson addressed the “common objection” raised by those who don’t understand the topic.
“Suppose we do pass a constitutional amendment,” he began as he recited the usual list of objections. “‘What difference will that make? They don’t follow the original Constitution. What makes you think they’ll follow amendments?’ That’s a very common objection and it’s raised by people who don’t know anything about constitutional history. Constitutional amendments have proven to be very powerful tools of reform. Women would not be able to vote were it not for the 19th amendment. We might still have slavery, were it not for the 13th Amendment. The president could still be elected forever, like with FDR, who died in office, were it not for the 22nd amendment. Amendments work. So why not try this process. I think it’s a very good idea.”
What motivated Halloran to support a Convention of States is that Nebraskans have made it clear they are “becoming very frustrated with the lack of fiscal austerity in Washington and the federal government level with the debt building at exponential rates.
“We just hit $30 trillion dollars and Nebraskans were making it clear to me they felt the federal government has been unchecked and Article V is a means of keeping them in check,” Halloran explained. Limiting the power of an overreaching federal government that is “similar to what the founders of our country fought a war against Britain” over is another motivator. “It’s become borderline tyrannical. It’s dictating to the states and to individuals what they feel we should be doing, and the founders were very cautious about not having a large dominant central government, so they enumerated the powers in Article 1 Section 8, with a quite narrow number of powers. The 10th Amendment says powers that weren’t given to the federal government belong to the states unless otherwise not allowed by the Constitution. So, the states were to be the higher authority and the federal government was to pay attention to what the states wanted to do. That’s why this became an important issue to me.
“Most important is getting a handle on our national debt and get some restraints in place that make our Congress live by a budget that doesn’t put my grandchildren into debt for their entire life,” Mills insisted. “I know they are interested in term limits and each measure has to stand and fall on its own merit and they would because they would be debated by all of the 38 states would have to ratify any of them to become law. But the one that is just completely frustrating me is the totally irrational spending. It’s so disruptive on our economy and supply chains and inflation. It’s just ludicrous.
“I think there’s a recognition in the public that this isn’t sustainable,” Knodle asserted. “Our national debt is currently around 125 percent of our gross domestic product. The economy can’t sustain that percentage of the GDP [Gross Domestic Product] and holding debt at 125 percent. Sometimes people have to feel the pain before they act or even admit there’s a problem. I think enough states and state legislators have recognized the pain that the federal government has inflicted upon their state with the overreach, regulation, and the growth of federal government. Article V Convention of States gives us an avenue to address the government’s growth and overreach.”
For Natelson, two things have inspired the new Convention of States momentum. One he credits to himself. In 2009, he started a research project into what conventions were proposing amendments for. As a result, people became much more comfortable with the procedure and more familiar with the process. The second contributor is the “quantitative increase in dissatisfaction with the federal government.” However, according to Natelson, “it isn’t just the people we elect.
“We actually elect some good people. The problem is the system,” Natelson said. “The rules of the game determine whether the outcome is good or bad. It’s the difference between playing softball or Russian Roulette. The rules are very different, and the game is going to end in tragedy. Much of the problems people complain about with the federal government is that the rules are broken. The obvious solution is to reestablish the rules under which the federal government operates.”
For Mills, “it’s a sign of the times just how unhinged and disconnected from the people our federal government has become. It’s telling me an energy is flowing through the country to get this done.
“There are so many things that have disrupted our society, and everyone is feeling it,” Mills noted, “like when we go to buy groceries. A bag of tangelos, which normally cost $4.00 a bag, now cost me $12. Every citizen is feeling it and it’s impacting our daily lives. I think the frustration level is building and the rapid change of things is spiraling toward socialism if we don’t do something.”
Knodle believes the pace is being quickened by the backlash being felt by legislators.
“As with many things, sometimes legislators have to feel the pain before they act or realize that there’s a problem,” Knodle explained. “I think at this point in time enough states and enough state legislators have recognized the pain that the federal government has inflicted upon their state with the overreach the growth of federal government and regulation and have discovered that this Convention of States through Article V gives us as states an avenue to address the federal government’s growth and overreach.”
The Way Forward
“The country is coming apart at the seams,” Meckler said. “All of us sense this. We know it, and I think what’s really important to know is, it’s okay and a lot of people are worried about that. A Convention of States is a way to remove the divisions and discord, a way to take the power away from D.C. and give it back to the people in the states.”
In April 2014, Florida became one of the first states to formally support a Convention of States. However, according to Florida state Senator and Majority Leader Debbie Mayfield, Florida had long ago helped pave the road for this day.
“The Founders of the United States of America provided in the Constitution of the United States for a limited Federal Government given enumerated powers,” Mayfield told The Epoch Times. “In 2014, when the national debt was $13 trillion less than it is now, Florida passed a narrowly tailored memorial calling upon Congress to conduct an Article V convention for the sole purpose of proposing amendments to the U.S. Constitution relating to imposing fiscal restraints on the federal government, limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limiting the terms of office for federal officials and members of Congress. The Florida Legislature also passed the ‘Article V Constitutional Convention Act’ to establish a framework for selecting and authorizing delegates to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution should Congress convene such a convention. We will monitor this issue as we continue to serve freedom-loving Floridians.”
Ultimately, Natelson believes this “is the last, best chance America has.
“Talk to any well-meaning senator or congressman and they will tell you, Washington isn’t going to change Washington,” he noted frankly, “and we can elect the very best people to office, and they will be disabled by the system, or they will be isolated and marginalized. There comes a point where you really have to accept the founder’s wisdom and use the device they crafted for times exactly like ours. The current federal government’s abuse and dysfunction is exactly what the founders predicted and exactly what they gave us this amendment process for.”
Jack Phillips contributed to this report.