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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Con-Con Call: Beware Mike Leavitt's "Conference of the States"

"Traitors within our gates..."
Monday, 06 March 1995 01:00
Written by  Don Fotheringham 

Utah Governor Mike Leavitt seems to think the United States Constitution is obsolete. He has teamed up with Governor Ben Nelson of Nebraska to set in motion the mechanism for making fundamental changes to our constitutional structure. A good deal of groundwork has already been laid for what the two governors have labeled a "Conference of the States," clearly one of the most startling and revolutionary developments of our time. Governors Leavitt and Nelson are supported (if not led) by the Council of State Governments and the National Governors' Association, in cooperation with two other organizations, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. Through these organizations, elaborate plans have been devised in which these quasi-official groups have designated themselves "convenors" of a major conference to be held later this year, most likely in Philadelphia.

This extraordinary affair is intended to emulate the historic convention of 1787 that drafted the U.S. Constitution. But lest there be any real opposition to the smooth-running movement, the governors and their "convenors" carefully avoid referring to the Conference as a constitutional convention (con-con).

Decisive Opposition

For the past 200 years, efforts to call a federal convention have been firmly opposed by legal scholars and citizens alike. Although a con-con is a legal mechanism established by the Constitution, it is an amendatory process that cannot be limited or controlled.

In spite of assurances by Governor Leavitt that the Conference of the States will not be a con-con, he openly advocated one in his first position paper and in public statements. The Salt Lake Tribune for April 25, 1994 reported:

On Thursday, the governor unveiled a proposal to gather support for an amendment to the U.S, Constitution giving states authority equal to the federal government's. He took his plan for an informal states' conference and a possible constitutional convention to the Western States Summit in Phoenix. The proposal is a manifesto that urges states to organize against their "subordinate status" under the current federal system.

Leavitt's speech was not well received by the audience. Here is the reaction of one state representative, Utah's Met Johnson, as quoted by the Salt Lake Tribune: "Mike got all wild and weird on us with this constitutional convention speech in Phoenix. The Constitution isn't broken; we don't want to open it up.... This is about the federal government regulating us into oblivion, and when he talked about that constitutional convention stuff, he made a lot of Westerners really angry."

While a lot of Westerners were indeed angry and concerned, apparently no one at the intergovernmental level objected to the governor's con-con plan, which is to be presented to an unsuspecting public, not as a con-con, but as a Conference of the States. After the Western States Summit meeting, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that "Leavitt also said he has rewritten his position paper, deleting any reference to a constitutional convention, which he said had been misconstrued."

Although Mike Leavitt has toned down his speeches, his carefully written plan still comprises every ingredient needed to harness the powers of a federal convention. The choice of language makes the Conference seem harmless to many state legislators who have been quick to pass "Resolutions of Participation" that are being introduced in one state after another.

A constitutional convention is a meeting authorized by the several states and comprised of delegates appointed by their legislatures for the purpose of considering and adopting amendments to the federal Constitution. To avoid being presumptive concerning the role of this new convocation, we hereby quote from the "Action Plan" of the governors:

A Conference of the States would enable State representatives to consider, refine and adopt proposals for structural change in our federal system.

So isn't that the essence of a federal convention? Essence or not, the organizers are quick to deny they are hosting a constitutional convention, or even laying the groundwork for one. We agree that their conference is certainly not being called pursuant to Article V of the Constitution, which, in addition to defining the procedure that authorizes Congress to initiate amendments, establishes an alternate route (circumventing Congress) for state-initiated amendments. Yet, neither was the Convention of 1787 called according to the established rules of the day. The original 13 states ignored the amendment process established in the Articles of Confederation. The delegates who attended the 1787 convention were vested with power by their state legislatures, power that extended far beyond their constitutional mandate.

Power of a Free People