Greg Abbott, Founding Father

Texas governor wants to rewrite U.S. Constitution

Gov. Greg Abbott, one big fluffy wig away from being James Madison (Photo by John Anderson)

Texas is notorious for rewriting its Constitution, for every trifling matter or minor legal tweak. It seems Gov. Greg Abbott may have got a little confused, because he's just called for an effective complete rewrite of the U.S. Constitution: one that, purely coincidentally, would massively increase his powers.

The call came during his presentation/pilgrimage to the state's wellspring of bad ideas, the Texas Public Policy Forum. Last week, during its annual policy orientation, Abbott said he will propose a convention of the states, as described under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, to rewrite the nation's underlying documents to curtail federal power at the executive, legislative, administrative, and judicial levels.

This isn't the first time recently that Abbott thought he knew better than the Founding Fathers: after all, just before Christmas, he kicked Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and the Bill of Rights out of the Capitol. This is also the same governor that shamelessly played to the Jade Helm conspiracy theories that the U.S. government was planning on invading, um, the U.S.

But don't panic yet. There are three barriers for Abbott to pass before this convention can even happen. One, he has to get the Texas Legislature to approve his call in the next session. Two, he has to get another 33 states to make the same request. And three, as a sign of how hard it is to wrangle all those cats, nobody has ever managed to get enough states lined up to call an Article V convention.

There's nothing new in calling for a convention of states, with pretty much every state of the Union calling for one at least once. The list started in 1788 with a politely-worded request from Virginia to include a Bill of Rights in the Constitution. Since then, the calls have come in waves: New York echoed the Virginia request in 1789, then there was a lull until 1832 with dueling requests from Georgia and South Carolina to clarify Article X of the Constitution. For decades, major debates triggered a sudden resurgence of convention requests from the states: slavery in 1861, direct election of senators from 1901-11, and a fascination with polygamy from 1907 to 1913.

Since 1977, the calls for a convention has come mainly from Republicans and conservative states, as noted by two constant issues: right to life, and a balanced federal budget (more recently, more Democratic states such as Vermont, Illinois, and New Jersey have called for a convention to close the Citizens United campaign funding loophole).

Texas has its own history of calling for such conventions. On 11 occasions, Lone Star State lawmakers sent formal requests to the U.S. government, starting with a call for a general convention in 1899, and tapping out with a balanced budget call in 1979. The closest Texas has come since then was a proposal by Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford last session: filed as House Bill 1110, it would not actually request a convention, merely clarify the rules for selecting delegates. However, it failed to get traction in the Senate State Affairs committee, and died an ignored death.

However, it sounds like Abbott is making up for lost time on local requests to rewrite the U.S. Constitution. His long winded, 92 page plan can basically be boiled down to one term: Rampant states rights for everybody. Yes, seemingly the efficacy of the Tenth Amendment is over-rated, and Abbott has a nine-point plan to pull back what he sees as federal overreach:

• Prohibit Congress from regulating activity that occurs wholly within one State.
• Require Congress to balance its budget.
• Prohibit administrative agencies – and the unelected bureaucrats that staff them – from creating federal law.
• Prohibit administrative agencies – and the unelected bureaucrats that staff them – from preempting state law.
• Allow a two-thirds majority of the States to override a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
• Require a seven-justice super-majority vote for U.S. Supreme Court decisions that invalidate a democratically enacted law.
• Restore the balance of power between the federal and state governments by limiting the former to the powers expressly delegated to it in the Constitution.
• Give state officials the power to sue in federal court when federal officials overstep their bounds.
• Allow a two-thirds majority of the States to override a federal law or regulation.

Of course, none of this is surprising from a man that once incorrectly claimed that his old job as attorney general was to wake up and sue the Obama administration. His track record on those suits was pretty weak, so now he's trying to re-write the rules of engagement to his advantage. Dallas County Democratic Party chair Carol Donovan quickly fired back that "Governor Greg Abbott's continued interference with the constitutional rights of the citizens of Texas have been blocked, time and time again, by the federal courts. His new constitutional convention proposal is a classic example of trying to change the rules when on the losing side."

Of course, there's a suspicion among many that such 10th Amendment grandstanding is little more than scarcely disguised sedition. Texas Democratic Party Deputy Executive Director Manny Garcia wrote, “Unfortunately, the most pressing issue for Imperial Republican Governor Greg Abbott is how we can tear apart the Constitution and take America back to an equivalent of the Articles of Confederation" He continued, “Texas families deserve serious solutions, not Tea Party nonsense.”

Similarly, Texas AFL-CIO President John Patrick called the plan "a wholesale attack on fundamental principles that have served our nation well. … The notion that Texas, which has what may be the most unwieldy Constitution ever put forth by mankind, is provoking a movement to amend the federal Constitution would be laughable if it wasn't so dangerous."

The most scathing takedown may have come from respected Texas Capitol news institution Harvey Kronberg of Quorum Report. Writing the whole mess off as "theater," he condemned Abbott for ignoring the legal mote in Texas' own eye: "It takes a certain moral tone-deafness to complain about federal oversight when federal courts have opined that Texas intentionally discriminated against minorities in rules governing elections. "

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Greg Abbott, Constitution, Texas Democratic Party, Harvey Kronberg, Convention of States, Article V

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