Constitutional Convention & Conference of States
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Senator Robert L. Hedlund
18 April 1995 Massachusetts
State Senate Massachusetts
We are writing regarding the proposed "Conference of the States" (COS) which is being promoted primarily by the Council of State Governments (CSG), a private organization, in conjunction with the Governor of Utah, Mr. Michael Leavitt.
The proponents are pushing for passage of "Resolutions of Participation" by at least 26 states, the minimum amount needed for the Conference to become a reality. The Resolution, once enacted by a State Legislature, allows for that state to formally take part in the Conference of the States.
You may have received one or several newsletters published by the CSG, advocating for the quick passage of a similar resolution here in Massachusetts. They state that it is "literally impossible for the Conference of the States (COS) to mutate into a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con)."
The COS has been expertly packaged to give the impression that it is nothing more than an informal meeting of State Legislators who merely want to assert their "Tenth Amendment Rights". But evidence suggests it is a blatant attempt to consolidate the authority of the states in a convention for making fundamental changes to our form of government.
In fact, a rewrite of the Tenth amendment is one of the stated goals of the COS.
The CSG claims that the Conference of the States is a well reasoned effort to examine the growing imbalance of power between the states and federal government. However, it seems to us here lies a platform to a Con-Con, underneath all the politically correct packaging.
The COS itself seems unconstitutional, since Article 1, Section 10 of our Constitution states, "No State shall, without the consent of Congress ... enter into any agreement or compact with another State, ... ."
By endorsing the COS through adoption of a joint resolution, a state essentially is entering into agreement or compact with other states, an action which is prohibited without consent of Congress. Right now it is critically important to the Conference task force to the Resolution of Participation passed in a least 26 states as quickly as possible. Most are being passed on voice votes, are given little or no committee hearing, and are being steamrolled through the voting chambers with little of no media coverage.
Now the question becomes: Why must a constitutional majority of the states pass Resolutions of Participation? The obvious answer is: If constitutional action is decided upon at the COS, then conveniently, the necessary constitutional majority is present to take action.
There is evidence of opposition even in areas that once supported Resolutions of Participation. In Pennsylvania, participation has been put on political hold. House leaders decided to send the measure back to committee until the conference planners (Gov. Leavitt and others) determine whether any legislative authority by the individual states is needed. Additionally, the Philadelphia City Council unanimously voted, this month, not to have Philadelphia be the host city for the conference of the States, expressing "concerns of converting the Conference of the States into a Constitutional convention."
The CSG has claimed that proposals made by the COS will have no binding legal or constitutional authority. They also suggest that if any proposals urge a Constitutional Amendment, Congress will have to approve it by a two-thirds vote, then send it back to the states for ratification by three-fourths of the Legislatures.
However, by allowing a Conference of the States, the safeguards outlined in Article V of the Constitution could be bypassed by this autonomous, Constitution-amending vehicle. The passage of a Resolution would authorize a series of three extraordinary developments:
1. The formal calling of a convocation of the states is equivalent to, and in the possession of the process essential to a constitutional convention;
2. The formal appointment of certified delegates empowered to vote at this federal convocation; and
3. Resolutions which become legal instruments authorizing the delegates to deliberate, propose, and adopt long-term fundamental structural changes to the U.S. Constitution.
To state it more plainly, the proposed resolution, if passed by at least 26 State Legislatures, could concentrate sovereign powers in one place under the same revolutionary force that created our federal government in 1787. This conference is not being called pursuant to Article V of the Constitution, nor was it in 1787.
We are extremely troubled by the possibility that this proposed conference could be construed as an application for a constitutional convention under Article V of the United Stated Constitution. Such a convention could evolve into a landslide assault on our Constitution, and lead to proposals for destroying our present constitutional system.
The history of the 1787 Constitutional Convention indicates that once a Con-Con is convened, the delegates to that convention could expand the agenda beyond its original purposes, dictate their own rules for the ratification of proposals, and therefore circumvent the fairly strict requirements of Article V.
In addition, there is no precise agenda set by the proponents prior to convening the conference. With no restraints on subject matters and no external body having legal authority to reject the convention's decisions, the convention itself could deem those decisions binding on the entire country.
Once a constitutional Convention begins, the only limit on its power is political. Therefore, a new Constitutional Convention presents the disturbing prospect of many different political bodies; the Conference, the existing federal government, and dissenting states, all vying for political authority.
We emphatically urge the Massachusetts Legislature to reject any decision to introduce such a resolution here in the Commonwealth. At the very least, such a resolution demands acute attention through the appropriate committee. Not until the Legislature has given careful and detailed consideration to the many potential disastrous implications that accompany this concept in a public hearing, should we support it.
Much of this country's strength and international moral authority are attributable to the Constitution's careful balancing of rights, responsibilities, and powers. Joining a "Conference of the States" could be the first radical step down a darkened stairway toward upsetting that balance.
We appreciate your consideration on this most important matter.
/s/ ROBERT L. HEDLUND State Senator
/s/ PATRICIA JEHLEN State Representative
/s/ ANNE PAULSEN State Representative
/s/ GEORGE PETERSEN State Representative
/S/ PHILIP TRAVIS State Representative