By JIM SMITH
— You may have heard that the Indiana Senate has passed a resolution calling for a convention for proposing amendments to the U.S. Constitution. I wanted to take this opportunity to explain exactly what this entails and why I believe it is a worthwhile course of action to curb the unrelenting overreach of our federal government.
When our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, they feared — above all else — an over-powerful centralized government not accountable to the people it serves. Because of this, our Constitution is framed entirely around a concept called federalism, meaning shared power between the states and the national authority.
This crucial balance of power is safeguarded throughout the Constitution in multiple ways — the most important of which is the 10th Amendment. It reserves to states any and all powers not expressly assigned to our limited federal government.
Unfortunately, over time, our federal government has abused those limited powers at the expense of the states, warping the original intent of the Founding Fathers and rendering the 10th Amendment almost meaningless. We now have a federal government that taxes and regulates just about every aspect of our lives, meddles in entire sectors of the economy and has accumulated more than $16 trillion in debt that will be passed on to our children and our children’s children.
Foreseeing this kind of abusive federal expansion, the Founders gave the states a constitutional tool to reassert their rights if and when it became necessary. Under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, the states hold the power to amend the Constitution via a convention that is called by two-thirds of states.
Alexander Hamilton, who helped shape this protection, said such a convention would allow state legislatures to “erect barriers against the encroachments of the national authority.” This is the idea that motivated the Indiana Senate earlier this year to call for such a convention.
Senate Joint Resolution 18 calls for an Article V convention strictly confined to the consideration of amendments to limit Congress’ power to tax and regulate commerce — two areas which are widely regarded as the root of today’s federal overreach. For such a convention to occur, 33 other states would then have to pass similar resolutions.
Some individuals have expressed concerns with an amendments convention and argue that the better path to fight federal encroachment is instead through nullification or interposition. These concepts involve individual states declaring that they will nullify — or ignore — any federal law they deem unconstitutional. While I certainly identify with the spirit behind this, the Supremacy Clause found in Article VI of the U.S. Constitution expressly prevents states from nullifying federal laws.
As an elected official, I have taken an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Indiana. It would be irresponsible and fruitless for me to push for a proposal we know would be thrown out in court.
The concerns that supporters of nullification have about holding a state-led Article V convention stem from their fear of a “runaway convention,” where our Constitution could be entirely scrapped or altered beyond recognition. Indiana has drafted its proposal to quell these fears and make sure this could never happen.
Alongside SJR 18, we have passed Senate Bills 224 and 225, which would restrict the authority of Indiana’s convention delegates, prohibiting them from considering amendments that do not seek to limit Congress’ power to tax and regulate commerce. These measures, if enacted by other states calling for an Article V convention, would effectively prevent a “runaway convention.”
It’s also important to remember that any proposed amendments approved by the convention would ultimately need to be ratified by three-fourths of the states — 38 states — in order to be added to the Constitution. This provides an addition check on the threat of a runaway convention.
We are at a unique moment in the history of our country. Millions of Americans agree that our government is operating far beyond its intended scope. Most Americans also believe Washington is broken, and that Congress is either unable or unwilling to control and reform itself. The answer to curbing federal overreach is not going to come from the top down. Change must be fueled by the people and states whose rights are being trampled.
Indiana has established a legacy of responsible governance in recent years, and we are asking our fellow states to follow our lead now. It is time to take back our freedom and our constitutional rights. But it must be done in a legal and constitutionally sound manner. This is the way to do it.
— Jim Smith, R-Charlestown, is an Indiana state senator. Reach him by visiting www.in.gov/s45/ or by calling 800-382-9467.