Issue 85 • Week of September 3, 2023
Senators from opposing sides of the aisle in California and Kentucky have been in the spotlight this summer not for their political views, but due to questions around their fitness for office. Most agree that age alone should not be a determining factor. Concerns around their capability, however, have renewed calls for term limits to achieve better representation of their constituents.
Five out of every six Americans believe we are overdue since incumbents in Congress are reelected over 90% of the time despite approval ratings around 20% since 2010 that sunk as low as 9% in 2013. Several states had previously set their own term limits for Congress, but those efforts were nullified when the Supreme Court ruled against them in 1995. So, the only remaining option is a Constitutional amendment which as outlined in Article V can be either proposed by 2/3 of Congress or 2/3 of states calling for a convention. Ratification of either method officially requires approval from 3/4 of states, though the latter has precedent in ignoring such a rule.
All amendments made thus far have been done the first way, yet the leading organization for term limits now advocates for an Article V convention. Experts across the political spectrum warn against the dangerous potential consequences of calling for such a constitutional convention. Delegates in their good faith attempt to set term limits could be swayed by disinformation to go far beyond their remit in other ways to roll back civil rights or enshrine corporate immunity that would alienate everyone.
Rules for a convention are extremely vague and it has only been done once before – in 1787 – when delegates met with a mandate to amend the ineffective Articles of Confederation. Instead, they threw it out altogether in favor of the Constitution we have today. Thankfully, the new document was a considerable improvement, but there are reasons to doubt that we would get a similar beneficial outcome now in our current hyper-partisan environment.
Ironically, supporters for a convention arrive at their conclusion from the opposite sides of a debate on the same issue: money in politics. ALEC, whose corporate backers promote disinformation and voter suppression, is the best-funded and most organized group rallying behind this effort (even if they recently lost a few supporters due to their extreme views). They would undoubtedly write the convention rules behind the scenes if such an event occurs, as they already do for thousands of state bills. Others who see no other way to overturn Citizens United have also floated the concept, but without the logistical or financial support that could ensure fair proceedings through their representation.
How can we avoid a possible convention that might jeopardize the Constitution?
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