Texas' effort to amend U.S. Constitution draws conservative critics

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramFebruary 24, 2011 

In the latest round of Texas vs. Washington, D.C., some Republican lawmakers in Austin want to rein in the federal government by amending the U.S. Constitution.

The measures are drawing opposition from Democrats who see the proposals as misguided and from an unexpected constituency: conservatives who fear that the efforts will mean open season on their most treasured political document.

"It's a terrible idea," Texas Eagle Forum President Pat Carlson said. "It opens the door for radicals to move in and completely rewrite the Constitution."

Two amendments are gaining support in more than a dozen state capitols. One would require the federal government to pass a balanced budget with few exceptions. The other would permit the repeal of any federal law by vote of two-thirds of state legislatures.

"We're trying to restore the balance of power between the states and the federal government," said Marianne Moran of RepealAmendment.org in Florida. She said repeal-amendment resolutions have been proposed in at least 14 states.

On Wednesday, the Texas Senate voted 24-7 for a resolution calling for a balanced budget amendment. It is one of about six such measures filed this session, along with three repeal-amendment resolutions. Two other measures urge amendments on both topics as well as congressional term limits, a cap on the national debt and a presidential line-item veto.

The balanced budget amendment appears to have stronger interest among Republican leaders in Texas. Last month, Gov. Rick Perry made it one of his emergency items, allowing the Legislature to take up the issue sooner.

The U.S. Constitution can be amended in two ways, both spelled out in one sentence that makes up Article V. They end with the same requirement: a minimum of 38 states must ratify the amendment. The difference is the path to get to that final step, and that's sparking a passionate, though admittedly arcane, debate.

The simpler way is for two-thirds of both chambers of Congress to approve the amendment. The other route is a constitutional convention, a national meeting to consider amendments that must be called if 34 states ask for one. None of the Constitution's 27 amendments were approved via a constitutional convention. Yet that's the approach Republicans are pursuing in most of the resolutions filed in Austin.

The Constitution provides little guidance on how a convention would be set up, prompting fears of a free-for-all.

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