Interior of the Massachusetts State House, with rows of wooden tables.
Supporters of a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution said it is needed to protect future generations from crippling federal debt but opponents countered it could limit lawmakers' ability to cope with economic recessions or respond to national emergencies; photo by Aaron Johnson from Pexels.

Voting rights groups call constitutional convention efforts a threat to democracy

Lawmakers in Massachusetts are considering a resolution to convene a Convention of States, a process voting rights groups said could put civil liberties at risk.

Congress is required to hold a convention under Article V of the Constitution if two-thirds of state legislatures call for one.

Geoff Foster, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said there are no rules in the Constitution for how to govern a convention and no guarantee, even the First Amendment, would be safe.

“There’s great risk and great potential harm to everything already enshrined in our Constitution if we do open up this Pandora’s box,” Foster cautioned.

Foster pointed out a convention could potentially allow unelected delegates and special-interest groups to enshrine their agenda into a founding document. Supporters argued a convention is needed to rein in federal government spending and give more power back to the states.

Twenty-eight state legislatures have already petitioned Congress for a constitutional convention, with the majority calling for a balanced-budget amendment. Just six more states are needed to trigger the event.

Some states are pushing for term limits. California wants an amendment to ensure local governments can enact stronger gun safety laws.

Foster emphasized the problem is not the issues groups want addressed but rather the process of the convention itself.

“There are very deliberate efforts to undermine institutions of democracy, so this is not the time to test an unprecedented process to make changes,” Foster asserted.

The state’s Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs recently heard testimony on the Massachusetts resolution aiming to limit the federal government’s jurisdiction and spending. Foster added he believes legislators in Massachusetts understand the risks associated with a constitutional convention and the prospects for a constitutional crisis.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.

by Kathryn Carley, Commonwealth News Service

Kathryn Carley began her career in community radio, and is happy to be back, covering the New England region for Public News Service. Getting her start at KFAI in Minneapolis, Carley graduated from the University of Minnesota and then worked as a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio, focusing on energy and agriculture. Moving to Washington, D.C., she filed stories for The Pacifica Network News and The Pacifica Report. Later, Carley worked as News Host for New York Public Radio, WNYC as well as Co-Anchor for Newsweek’s long running radio program, Newsweek on Air. Carley also served as News Anchor for New York Times Radio. She now lives near Boston, MA.

Languages Spoken: English

Topic Expertise: education, environment, nuclear energy

Local Expertise: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, New York City, Wisconsin, Minnesota

Demographic Expertise: public schools, families, children, nutrition

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