Tea Party, at Harvard, will explore constitutional convention

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 30, 2011 1:28 PM
Tea Party, at Harvard, will explore constitutional convention

By Lauren Keiper

BOSTON (Reuters) - Tea Party conservatives and liberal activists may make unlikely allies when they meet on the elite grounds of Harvard Law School next month to talk about changing the constitution.

The gathering of those frustrated with the political process in Washington will provide a forum to talk about whether it makes sense to organize a constitutional convention, event organizers said.

The expected 400 attendees would like reforms on a number of issues, said organizer David Segal, a former Democratic state representative from Rhode Island who said moving toward a convention could provide the momentum needed to spur change.

But that is a tall order. A federal constitutional convention, designed to give states powers similar to Congress to propose amendments, has not been held since 1787 when the constitution was first drafted.

Issues on the table include reducing the role of private money in politics, curbing corporate rights, increasing the number of members of Congress, term limits, and expanding state rights, Segal said.

The conference, co-hosted by Tea Party Patriots, isn't about finding bipartisan solutions to those issues, but exploring whether a constitutional convention could be a path toward reform, organizers said.

"The objective is to discuss whether a convention would help the nation work through the critical failures we all recognize with our government," conference co-chair and liberal Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig told Reuters by e-mail.

Nick Dranias, the constitutional policy director with conservative government watchdog group Goldwater Institute, will also be at the two-day conference to push for the organization of a convention.

"We think it is an absolutely necessary vehicle for states to counteract an overreaching federal government," he said, adding his group supports an amendment currently being circulated to require state approval for any increase in the federal debt.

MECHANICS OF CONVENTION

But Barbara Perry, a professor of American government at University of Virginia, who identifies as a middle-of-the-road Democrat, said she was skeptical of a convention, but would go to Harvard and listen.

"I'm not anti-Washington and I'm not anti-federal government and even I am fed up with the gridlock," she said.

Legal experts are scheduled to debate the mechanics of organizing and running a convention, including hammering out what kind of topics could be addressed, the event agenda said.

"There are no details of what a convention would look like or who would control it," said Meg Penrose, a constitutional law professor at Texas Wesleyan University Law School, set to speak at the event. Penrose considers herself an independent.

The power to make these changes is derived from Article V of the Constitution, which allows a constitutional convention at the request of legislatures of two thirds of the states. But such a process has never been carried to completion.

Penrose said a convention proposal mapped out by the American Bar Association nearly four decades ago was the last serious endeavor toward organizing a convention.

Amendments approved in any convention would need to be ratified by three-fourths of the states to take effect.

Should the decision be to move forward, organizer Segal said the next step would be to build support from the states.

"Even if a convention doesn't happen, organizing toward one can serve as a pressure point in its own right," Segal said.

Harvard professor Lessig along with Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler were slated to co-chair the gathering. Fix Congress First, co-founded by Lessig, was also a sponsor.

Conference on the Constitutional Convention will convene September 24 and 25 at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus.

(Reporting by Lauren Keiper; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Johnston)