Just Memorial Day. It is also the 215th...

THIS IS NOT

May 25, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

THIS IS NOT just Memorial Day. It is also the 215th anniversary of the opening of the first Constitutional Convention.

First? Yes, now that the Archivist of the U.S. and Congress have validated the proposition that state actions to amend the Constitution are everlasting, the second Constitutional Convention is a certainty.

What the archivist said and Congress voted overwhelmingly to endorse was that state ratifications of congressionally proposed amendments to the Constitution never expire. But that is only one way to change the Constitution. Article V says: "The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of this Constitution when ratified by three-fourths of the several States." (Italics added.)

The archivist and Congress just accepted Maryland's 202-year-old ratification of the pay amendment, so presumably -- logically -- they have to accept Maryland's 17-year-old proposal to call a federal Constitutional Convention.

Maryland's legislators asked for a convention to write a balanced budget amendment. Thirty or 31 other states have also called for that over the years. Also, there has been similar support for a Constitutional Convention in the form of petitions for one to consider such matters as polygamy and the Supreme Court's one-person, one-vote apportionment rulings.

Two-thirds of 50 is 34. Politicians and scholars who are scared to death of Constitutional Convention II say that to count, all the petitions must be for the same purpose. Thirty petitions for a convention to draft a balanced budget amendment and 10 petitions for one to abolish polygamy do not add up to 40 calls for a convention. I don't see why, but even accepting that, now that the precedent has been set for accepting ancient state acts to amend the Constitution, it shouldn't be hard to get the two or three more budget or apportionment amendment petitions needed to require a new convention.

I can't wait! Bring on delegates Jane Fonda and Jesse Jackson! Pat Robertson! A new Constitution is coming! A new age is dawning! Hey, why not? What did Washington and Madison know?

"Wait a minute, Theo," some of you are saying, "all the convention can do is write a balanced budget amendment." Wrong, Federalist Papers Breath! Once in session, a convention becomes an 800-pound guerrilla. It can do anything it wants. Jesse and Pat can scrap the Constitution and start over.

That first convention did that. It was convened "to take into consideration the trade and commerce of the United States" under the existing Articles of Confederation. It threw the Articles out altogether and wrote what you should now start thinking of as Constitution I.

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