Guest Editorial: Changing Constitution unwise

Dallas Morning News
Jan. 8
Guest Editorial

Gov. Greg Abbott’s audacious call Friday to radically reduce the power of the U.S. government is bound to excite Americans who feel Washington has grown too big, too involved and too often out of touch. But Abbott’s call for a constitutional convention could so thoroughly rewrite the relationship between the U.S. government and its citizens that we cannot support it.

Abbott on Friday called on state legislatures to convene a constitutional convention to consider nine sweeping amendments that would eviscerate some of the most fundamental provisions of the Constitution. He would trim the authority of the courts, congress and the presidency.

The people, acting through their state legislatures, would be given the right to overturn any decision by the Supreme Court, or act passed by Congress. They would need merely two-thirds of the states to agree.

That kind of populist power has its appeal, but such a veto runs counter to the wisdom contained in the founding documents Abbott’s meticulous manifesto appears to hold in such high esteem.

Abbott claims to be restoring through these changes the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to their original luster. But the nation’s founding documents have come to be more than merely a limit on what powers the federal government can exercise. They are also powerful buffers between the will of the majority and the rights of individuals, a buffer that after decades of struggle was eventually also understood to protect individuals against state governments.

Who or what would protect state residents' rights of free speech, religion or political association, for instance, if any decision by the Supreme Court could be overturned by a vote in two-thirds of the statehouses?

Abbott’s proposals are not new, but he should be credited for offering them up in a way that takes them far beyond the political stump speeches where they usually are discussed. Ahead of his speech, his office issued a 70-page treatise, with another 22 pages of notes, arguing a coherent and conservative political philosophy. It merits careful consideration.

But the America he’d ask us to return to is one this country has worked hard to leave behind. His vision is of a nation where agencies like the SEC, the EPA and many others are hobbled. But for all its disappointments, the federal government has too often in our nation’s history emerged as the only force capable of protecting the environment, ensuring the rights of minorities and others, and countering excesses among our biggest corporations.

Abbott’s proposal is worth debating, but he should know too that he’s playing with fire. A constitutional convention, long shot that it is, would add an unprecedented level of instability in this country.