Constitutional Convention Confusion

Saturday, June 19, 2010 | 12:12 PM

I hate chain emails. They're often nothing more than hastily copied-and-pasted ramblings that are full of inaccuracies and hysteria. A dear friend forwarded one such email to me recently. It was about a proposed 28th amendment to the U. S. Constitution (full text below). The wording of the proposed amendment: "Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States ."

That's fine, but the rest of the email is fraught with half-truths. Nevertheless, it reminded me of a few constitutional issues currently ongoing. Before we look further at that email, let's remember the 10th Amendment:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The 10th Amendment is all about "states' rights," and is a crucial element of American federalism. Put simply, it guarantees that any powers that are not specifically assigned to the federal government is reserved for the states and the citizenry.

The so-called "proposed 28th amendment" seems like a good idea in spirit. After all, we're all supposed to be equal under the law.

The proposed wording in the email, however, is too simple and based on too many assumptions, too few facts and downright errors. For example, the email erroneously says that "Governors of 35 states have already filed suit against the Federal Government for imposing unlawful burdens upon them. It only takes 38 (of the 50) States to convene a Constitutional Convention." To my knowledge, and according to my research, this is false.

It is true, however, that 21 states are currently enjoined in suing the federal government over last year's health care reform overhaul. They claim it is unconstitutional for a number of reasons, including the infringement of states' rights. (The states will probably lose in this effort.) Not surprisingly, Obama's Justice Department is moving to crush the suit. The 21 states are: AZ, AL, AK, AR, CA, CO, GA, HI, ID, IN, KS, ME, MI, MO, MT, NH, NV, OK, PA, TX, and WA.

In May 2010, reports FoxNews, "A group of Republican lawmakers launched a task force on Thursday that seeks to reclaim the powers they say the federal government has unconstitutionally taken away from the 50 states. The 10th Amendment Task Force, a project of the Republican Study Committee, will develop and promote proposals that aim to usher in what supporters are calling a 'New Era of Federalism.' 'When federalism is out of balance, people get hurt,' Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, one of the group's 10 co-founding members, said at a news conference Thursday. 'We want to empower state and local governments'." 

Back to the email about "the 28th amendment," (my comments in red):

Governors of 35 states have already filed suit against the Federal Government for imposing unlawful burdens upon them. It only takes 38 (of the 50) States to convene a Constitutional Convention. 


NOTE: Not true. There are two ways to amend the U.S. Constitution. According to Lexis Nexis, "Article V of the Constitution prescribes how an amendment can become a part of the Constitution. While there are two ways, only one has ever been used. All 27 Amendments have been ratified after two-thirds of the House and Senate approve of the proposal and send it to the states for a vote. Then, three-fourths of the states must affirm the proposed Amendment." Did you notice the part that says that two-thirds of the House and Senate must approve it? Uh huh. Then it goes to the states. The other method requires "a Constitutional Convention to be called by two-thirds of the legislatures of the States. That Convention can propose as many amendments as it deems necessary. Those amendments must be approved by three-fourths of the states." 

"Two thirds" of 50 state legislatures is 33.33333. Whether that's rounded to 33 or 34 is immaterial: The email falsely claims that "it only takes 38 (of the 50) States" to call a constitutional convention. That's an error of at least five states.

This (proposed amendment) will take less than thirty seconds to read. If you agree, please pass it on.

An idea whose time has come

For too long we have been too complacent about the workings of Congress. Many citizens had no idea that members of Congress could retire with the same pay after only one term, that they specifically exempted themselves from many of the laws they have passed (such as being exempt from any fear of prosecution for sexual harassment) while ordinary citizens must live under those laws. The latest is to exempt themselves from the Healthcare Reform that is being considered... in all of its forms. Somehow, that doesn't seem logical. We do not have an elite that is above the law. I truly don't care if they are Democrat, Republican, Independent or whatever. The self-serving must stop. This is a good way to do that. It is an idea whose time has come.


NOTE: This is misinformation. Members of Congress do NOT retire with full pay. From FoxNews, December 2007: Members of Congress are eligible for one of two plans, depending on when they were first elected. Members elected before 1983 take part in the CSRS plan which has more generous defined benefits. Members elected after 1983 take part in the FERS plan available to all federal employees. It has a smaller defined benefit but a more generous 401(k) (described more fully below). Members under the old CSRS plan receive a pension equal to 2.5 percent of their highest salary for each year of service. Thus, a member who serves 10 years would receive a pension equal to 25 percent of his salary. Members under the new FERS plan receive pension equal to 1.5 percent of their highest salary for each year of service. Thus a Member serving 10 years would receive a pension equal to 15 percent of his salary. (More at FoxNews. Fox also notes that, since 1983, members of Congress do pay Social Security.)

Snopes.com also notes the falsehood of the claim of lavish pensions for members of Congress. (See http://www.snopes.com/politics/socialsecurity/pensions.asp

Even if Congressional pensions were altered in some way, that would not affect the similarly large pensions enjoyed by many former city council members, state legislators and other elected officials, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of local, county, state and federal bureaucrats. The proponent/s of this amendment also walk the razor's edge of demanding that everyone in America be paid exactly the same wages. Some call that communism. To be frank, I like to think that a member of Congress is paid generously. 

Why? Simple: National security. A well-paid member of Congress is less likely to want or need to take bribes, from lobbyists or agents of foreign nations. Well paid public officials are generally not as inclined to steal as those who are not. Ask any police officer in Tijuana.

Have each person contact a minimum of twenty people on their Address list; in turn ask each of those to do likewise. In three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message. This is one proposal that really should be passed around.

NOTE: Not true, and it's faulty arithmetic. Let's say you send the email to 20 friends, and each of them send it to 20 people on the first day. That would 20 x 20, or 400 people. On day two, those 400 each send the email to 20 friends. That would be another 8,000. 

On day three, each of those 8,000 people sends it to 20 of their contacts. That's 160,000. Let's go on to day four, where 20 x 160,000 becomes 3,200,000 (about 1/10th of the U.S. population). On day five: 64,000,000. On day six: 1,280,000,000 (that's one billion, two hundred eighty million). Granted, the email could theoretically reach an enormous number of people in a short time. However, the email specifically claimed that it would reach "most people" in the U.S. "in three days." There are just over 300 million people in the U.S. "Most" of them would be just over 150,000,000. As we see, nowhere near that number would be reached in three days, and in reality the email would frequently be either ignored, not forwarded, or lost in spam bins.

Proposed 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution "Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States."

You are one of my 20
.

Please: Don't forward this to anybody.

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