Stopping a Dangerous Article V Convention

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Do you trust far-right politicians working to remake the Kansas and US Constitutions? | Opinion

Do you trust far-right politicians working to remake the Kansas and US Constitutions? | Opinion

Joel Mathis
Thu, January 4, 2024 at 4:07 a.m. MST

The Kansas City Star

Do you trust Kansas state Sen. Mike Thompson with the U.S. Constitution?

You probably shouldn’t.

Thompson, the Shawnee Republican, had a long career as a jovial weatherman on Kansas City television. Since joining the Kansas Legislature, though, he has emerged as a chief spokesman for all the far-right’s worst ideas, embracing stuff like COVID-19 misinformation, criminalizing drag shows and 2020 election denialism.

Whenever crankery is to be found in Topeka, you’ll often find Thompson nearby.

So it’s not really a surprise that the senator — along with state Rep. Michael Murphy, a Republican from Sylvia — recently filed a federal lawsuit to force Kansas to set aside its own state constitution in order to help overhaul the U.S. Constitution.

Thompson wants to upend two constitutions in one fell swoop. What a terrible idea.

Here’s the story: Right-wing legislators across the nation are working on an effort to call a national constitutional convention. The idea — supposedly — is to enshrine some conservative hobbyhorses such as a balanced budget amendment and term limits for elected officials into the nation’s founding document.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution allows the state legislatures to call such a convention, as long as two-thirds of them — 34 of the 50 — do so. So far, 19 have joined in.

Remarkably, Kansas isn’t one of them.

It’s not for lack of trying. Last spring, conservative majorities in both the Kansas House and Kansas Senate approved resolutions calling for the convention. The problem? The Kansas Constitution requires such resolutions to pass by a two-thirds majority in both chambers — and the resolutions fell short.

Now Thompson and Murphy are trying to sue that provision of the Kansas Constitution right out of existence.

They say the Article V doesn’t permit states to “impose limitations” (such as the two-thirds majority requirement) on legislatures in their efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution. Which is ridiculous — the provision allows states to make application for a convention, but it doesn’t say how. Thompson and Murphy are trying to impose a standard where none exists.

Which means, one hopes, their lawsuit should be tossed in short order.

It’s not that amending the U.S. Constitution is such a bad idea in and of itself. I’ve got a few changes I’d like to make, personally. (Do we really need the Electoral College? I’m not so sure.) You probably do too. The founders left us with a mechanism to alter the document to fit the times. We should use it more often.
I just don’t trust the likes of Thompson to do the changing.

The Kansas resolutions foundered last year partly over unresolved questions about who exactly would represent the state at such a convention. Would a Sunflower State delegation represent the vast moderate mass of Kansas voters? Or would a right-wing Legislature send a committee of right-wingers?

I suspect we know the answer to that.

That’s the first problem. The second: Advocates are talking about budget and term limits now. But when a constitutional convention starts, anything could happen. There are no limits.

“The delegates could write amendments that revoke any of our most cherished rights — like our right to peaceful protest, our freedom of religion, or our right to privacy,” the progressive watchdog group Common Cause warns. Hyperbole? Maybe. The point is we simply don’t know.

We’re already living in unsteady times. Do we really want to gamble on a wholesale revamp of the Constitution right now?

There’s another reason Thompson and Murphy’s lawsuit smells to high heavens: It’s a clear attempt to bypass Kansas voters.

The Kansas Constitution can also be amended. Don’t like the two-thirds requirement? It can be changed.
But the voters have to approve those changes. And the overwhelming rejection of the antiabortion “Value Them Both” amendment in 2022 proved that Kansas voters don’t automatically sign on to right-wing causes.

Which is one more reason you shouldn’t trust Mike Thompson with the Constitution: He clearly doesn’t trust Kansans.

Joel Mathis is a regular Wichita Eagle and Kansas City Star Opinion correspondent. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife and son. Formerly a writer and editor at Kansas newspapers, he served nine years as a syndicated columnist.

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