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Indiana joins a Convention of States

The state House votes to join a movement to limit the power of the federal government through amendments to the U.S. Constitution

Diane Gomez Photo by William McCleery

Indiana joins a Convention of States

INDIANAPOLIS—By joining the call for a “Convention of States,” Indiana this week became the sixth state in the nation to endorse limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government via amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

The question is whether, and how quickly, proponents of states’ rights can recruit 28 more legislatures to their cause—an effort bolstered lately by the endorsement of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who has mentioned it in speeches while campaigning for the presidency.

The Indiana House of Representatives voted 61-36 Monday for a resolution in favor of joining the Convention of States (COS). The Indiana Senate already approved the measure by a 34-16 vote on Feb. 2.

Co-founded by constitutional lawyer Michael Farris, the COS aims to persuade two-thirds of the nation’s state legislatures to call a convention to draft and approve amendments that “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and impose term limits on federal officials,” Farris told me in a phone interview.

A state-called convention is one of two methods established by Article 5 of the Constitution for passing amendments. No such convention has ever occurred in U.S. history. Amendments to the Constitution thus far have happened via the other method: originating as acts of Congress before being ratified by the states.

Specific amendments would be proposed and debated once a convention convenes, said Farris, who is also the founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and Patrick Henry College.

A key focus of the convention would be limiting the power of the U.S. Supreme Court and the federal judiciary, Farris said, possibly by enabling states rather than the president and U.S. Senate to choose term-limited Supreme Court justices on a rotational basis among states.

In passing the resolution, the Indiana General Assembly joins the legislatures of Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee in seeking the convention. Ten other states have had one of their legislative bodies—but not both—pass a resolution.

In Indiana, Diane Gomez, a citizen from Carmel, led the effort. “I’m just proud and happy that Indiana has taken this step,” she said. “It gives motivation and courage to other states.”

Farris visited Indiana in mid-February to encourage Gomez and her supporters. This is the third year for the COS effort nationally. “We were able to get three states the first year, one state last year, and two so far this year,” Farris said.

He expressed optimism about the effort’s future: “As people learn about it, it’s a pretty easy sell. The thing they have to believe to support [the COS] is that Washington, D.C., is abusing its power, and somewhere around three-fourths of the American public believes that. Then they have to believe Washington, D.C., won’t ever voluntarily relinquish power, and I think almost everybody believes that. And when they learn states actually have an alternative to rein in the power of Washington, D.C., the vast majority of people think it’s a good idea. Most people just don’t know about it.”

Besides Rubio, other nationally prominent conservatives have praised Farris and his crusade, including radio and television host Sean Hannity and economist Thomas Sowell. Some conservatives, though, voice warnings. Phyllis Schlafly, a retired constitutional lawyer and founder of the Eagle Forum, argues that seeking changes to the Constitution weakens its importance and opens it to too much tinkering.

Similar arguments arose during debate in Indiana.

“If we don’t send a strong message to Washington, I fear that the government overreach will become intolerable,” state Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, told me. “I realize it will be a considerable challenge to get the required states to agree on the issues to be considered at a called convention, but this is the option our forefathers provided for states to curb federal government overreach.”

Conservative state Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, voted against the resolution. “When I see a Washington, Adams, or Jefferson rise up, perhaps I will reconsider,” he told me. “But in this entitlement-minded, self-indulgent culture, I do not trust our people to do well. Bottom line, our Constitution must be followed and obeyed, not re-written.”

Indiana Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, assailed the COS resolution in floor debate Monday before its passage minutes later. “This is not the worst piece of legislation this session, but it is the goofiest,” the House Democratic leader said.

Gomez attributed opposition to the COS to what she called “misinformation,” such as the idea that delegates would veer far outside the defined scope of a constitutional convention to propose litanies of wrongheaded amendments. She said rules prohibit such behavior among delegates.

Farris said this year’s presidential election would only accelerate support for curbing federal power—especially if the two options in the fall are Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Trump, he said, “is as bad as or worse than Hillary Clinton, and I think Hillary Clinton is out to destroy the United States of America. So it’s hard to get as bad as or worse than Hillary Clinton.” Trump, he said, “is a dangerous authoritarian thug.” Farris said he would be comfortable with either Rubio or Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas as the GOP nominee and president.

COS, a project of the organization Citizens for Self-Governance, is not the only group advocating an Article 5 states-led constitutional convention. The Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force and other organizations, over several decades, have won legislative support in 27 of the required 34 states for a constitutional amendment specifically requiring a balanced federal budget.

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