Just before the new year, New Jersey became the latest state to rescind all calls for a constitutional convention. In doing so, New Jersey takes part in removing applications asking for a constitutional convention that, if it were to happen, leaves the door wide open for a complete runaway convention that has the power to carve up the Constitution and all the rights within it that we hold dear.
Former state Senate Speaker Stephen Sweeney and former Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti penned this op-ed to highlight the dangers of an Article V convention and why it was key that they work with their colleagues in the New Jersey legislature to make sure these calls were off the books. You can read it below or find it here:
January 6th marked the one-year anniversary of the deadly insurrection on our nation’s capital. We all know how the foundation of our American ideals and government was besieged by domestic extremists that day.
But there’s been another quieter, insidious assault on democracy — and explicitly our constitution — being shopped from state-to-state right under our noses. Namely, the call for an Article V Convention, which could not only undermine but even rewrite the U.S. Constitution.
We’re happy to report that, here in New Jersey, the state Legislature did our part to preserver the democratic process and protect the rights of all Americans. Thankfully, our Senate and Assembly voted overwhelmingly to rescind all applications previously transmitted to Congress calling for a constitutional convention.
Leading the effort to trigger this dangerous convention is former right-wing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. He’s advocating for a federal balanced budget amendment (BBA), which would destroy the opportunity for nationwide emergency funding and possibly create economic problems throughout our country.
Moreover, well-funded, aggressive special interest groups have risen to misuse previous plenary applications introduced by state legislatures calling an Article V Convention and opening the document for a rewrite. In other words, given the lack of BBA progress, pro-convention advocates are working hard to combine prior generic calls for a constitutional convention with single-subject applications to reach the 34-state threshold.
For example, in New Jersey, between 1861 and 2015, the state submitted at least nine petitions for a constitutional convention. During President Abraham Lincoln’s first year in office, New Jersey passed a plenary application just as the Civil War began. At the start of the last century, the state passed another application calling for the direct election of senators. And in 1920, New Jersey passed one calling for the repeal of prohibition.
Amazingly, these out-of-date calls were all still on the books even though they are no longer relevant or needed. And any of these stale calls could have theoretically been combined with another state’s call to limit the role of the federal government — opening the floodgates. And that’s frightening.
The U.S. Constitution has been amended only 27 times, but never through a convention. In fact, the last convention was in 1787 – at which the current document replaced the Articles of Confederation.
There’s no guidance in our Constitution outlining protocols for a convention. So, it could — and would — become a complete runaway endeavor with no guardrails. Our three branches of government would have no authority. And there would be no jurisprudence, resulting in legal and political chaos.
Regardless of what issue a convention is officially called for, there are absolutely no rules limiting to one scope or subject. No one knows what could happen now when the political and social climate is more divisive than ever before.
At a time when extreme polarization exists and big money organizations buy influence for wealthy special interest groups, chaos would undoubtedly ensue. And lasting damage would be done. One far-right activist, Mark Meckler, once said his goal in calling a convention “is intended to reverse 115 years of progressivism.”
A constitutional convention would likely open up the entire document for a redraft. Americans could easily lose the right to free speech, freedom of religion, the right to privacy, to vote and so much more. Clearly, we are facing a dire threat to the very fabric of our country. A convention would grant states the opportunity to completely scrap our existing Constitution and rewrite it entirely anew. Any success in advocating for an Article V Convention would jeopardize all civil liberties and all restraints on presidential power. And this should concern Americans of all political stripes – be they conservative, liberal or moderate.
Rescinding all previous convention calls around the country is the best option to ensure a state is not unintentionally counted in efforts to hold a convention. We are proud that New Jersey is leading the firewall thwarting these ill-advised and dangerous efforts.
Stephen Sweeney formerly represented the 3rd Legislative District from 2002-2022 and also served as Senate President from 2010-2022.
Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti formerly represented the 31st Legislative District from 2016-2022 and served as the Assembly Majority Whip.
To read this op-ed online, click here.