Federalism

Second Annual Center to Restore the Balance of Government Article V Event Showcased Bipartisanship and the Crucial Role of the States

The Center to Restore the Balance of Government celebrated its first anniversary with a fascinating discussion on the Hill that showcased Article V as a nonpartisan tool that states can use to bypass a dysfunctional Congress and bring about positive change in Washington. Moderated by Center Chair and ALEC past National Chair Iowa Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer, discussants included Indiana Congressman Luke Messer, Oklahoma Majority Whip and ALEC Board Member Gary Banz, and Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig. In her opening remarks, ALEC CEO Lisa B. Nelson emphasized the importance of the exchange between state and federal lawmakers, noting that facilitating this dialogue is one of the most important undertakings of the Center. Event Moderator Speaker Upmeyer highlighted federalism as one of the three ALEC guiding principles, reminding everyone that “real solutions come from the states – America’s 50 laboratories of democracy – not one-size-fits-all federal government policies that don’t account for regional differences.” Speaker Upmeyer then announced the release of the updated edition of the ALEC Article V Handbook authored by ALEC Board of Scholars member Rob Natelson.

The first panelist, Messer – Chairman of the Republican Policy Committee – described the evening’s conversation as important, especially given America’s current political climate. Populist candidates can wage credible campaigns for the office of the presidency because Americans are frustrated with the nation’s leaders as they experience wage stagnation and unacceptably high levels of unemployment and underemployment. As the congressman observed, “This country can survive policy mistakes … but we cannot survive a loss of faith in the political system.” Messer, a former state legislator, continued, “There are enormous opportunities to learn from the way state legislatures operate.” Asserting that people need to believe they can make a difference, Messer offered Article V as one way for people to make such a difference and a method to re-establish the balance between the state and federal governments. Congressman Messer described Article V as an “escape valve” crafted by the Constitutional Framers for the states giving them “the option to amend the Constitution without the assent of Congress.”

Currently, there is no federal agency archiving Article V applications, so even if the 34-state threshold is reached, there is no official mechanism at the congressional level to aggregate and count applications. Messer introduced the Article V Records Transparency Act of 2016 as a solution that would require the Archivist of the United States to separate all the applications and rescissions from all other Congressional records housed at the Archives and transmit them to Congress where they can be posted on a publicly accessible website to ensure maximum transparency. ALEC will consider a model memorial at the Annual Meeting in July to support Messer’s initiative because, as he put it, the Founders wanted the process to be difficult but not impossible.

Messer was followed by Oklahoma state Representative Banz, who described the conditions that existed when the U.S. constitution was drafted. Banz explained why the Framers included Article V at the last minute, crediting George Mason, who realized there was no mechanism for the states to amend the Constitution if Congress became the problem rather than the solution to the nation’s problems. Article V corrected this oversight. Majority Whip Banz lamented that modern state legislatures have abdicated their responsibility to use Article V to bring function to a dysfunctional Washington.

Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig gave a dynamic and compelling presentation calling on Americans to act as citizens rather than partisans, highlighting the ideas that unite the country. Unacceptable numbers of Americans believe Congresss, which Lessig described as the “failed branch” relative to state legislatures, is dysfunctional and observed that no one within the political system right now has the “means or motive to fix Congress.” Therefore, the change this nation needs cannot and should not be controlled by Congress, meaning Article V is a potential remedy to address America’s challenges in today’s political climate.

Lessig, a Democrat, described Article V as the “least understood clause in the Constitution,” quipping that there is “bipartisan ignorance.” However, Article V could serve not just as an agent for change but as an important step in “reaffirming that link between the people and [their] Constitution.” The professor also addressed the fear of a “runaway convention,” reminding listeners that a “proposing convention” pursuant to Article V is not a constitutional convention; the convention’s powers are limited by the Article V clause itself. As Lessig observed, “A convention cannot run away. It can only fail.”

The professor stressed the Article V movement must not be or seem partisan, asserting his support for a “cross-partisan convention” that could consider initiatives from both ends of the political spectrum. He suggested consideration of a constitutional amendment on fiscal responsibility, together with one on representational integrity dealing with the vast amounts of money in the political system, could be successful as it addresses concerns important to both Left and Right. The constitutional Framers had differences that were much more profound than the ones dividing today’s partisans, so if the Framers could come together to craft one of the greatest governing documents ever written, then Americans today should be able to unite in the interest of the nation.


In Depth: Federalism

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