INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A small but determined group of state lawmakers from some 30 states gathered in Indiana Thursday to lay the groundwork for something that has not happened since 1787 in Philadelphia: a convention to revise the U.S. Constitution.
The bar they would have to clear — winning approval from 34 state legislatures — seems impossibly high, but the group of roughly 100 legislators, most of them Republicans, is pressing on.
Fueling them is a firm belief that the federal government is increasingly overstepping its bounds and has forgotten that it was the states which gave it life at the birth of the United States, not the other way around.
“We’re trying to save the Constitution and the powers that are inherent there, the powers in the 10th, 9th (amendments) where the power is reserved to the states and to the people,” said Rep. Jordan Ulery, a New Hampshire Republican.
“A lot of people don’t understand what that convention is, and as part of a convention of the states, we’re going to have to teach our own states,” he said.
The 9th and 10th Amendments say that the government cannot encroach on personal rights not already written in the Constitution and that federal powers not written in the Constitution are reserved for the states and the people.
Indiana’s Republican Senate President Pro Tem David Long, a leader of the effort, has cited the expansion of the federal debt and President Barack Obama’s health care law as examples of the national government overreaching.
The meetings, dubbed the Mount Vernon Assembly, opened Thursday in the House chamber of the Indiana Capitol in Indianapolis and continue Friday. They follow sessions last December at George Washington’s home in Virginia.
Actually calling a convention that would allow for the amending of the Constitution needs the consent of 34 of the 50 states, or a two-thirds majority. While conservatives might press a new convention to bolster the power of states, it also might open the way for a host of other issues to be raised.
Most of the delegates to this week’s sessions are Republicans who want to bypass Congress because they do not believe the document can be changed through the federal government.
The Indiana meeting — catered and in air conditioned rooms — was a far cry from the convention held 227 years ago, during a sweltering stretch in Philadelphia, with some delegates arriving by horseback rather than airplane and automobile today.
The Constitution has been amended 17 times since it was ratified. The most recent approved in 1992, established that changes in Congressional pay will not take effect until after the subsequent elections.
Organizers said lawmakers from 33 states were invited and about 30 attended, focusing Thursday on rules and regulations for a future constitutional conference. Unlike the Philadelphia conference of all white men, this group included a few black and women lawmakers.
“Our task is to lay the foundation of this building as solidly as we can, so that it can stand tall for future generations,” Long said referring to the Constitution. “So it can provide a shelter necessary to protect those who use this building for the advancement of state’s rights, whether today, tomorrow, or at any time in the future.”
But the hurdles — political and practical — to actually calling a convention were clear Thursday. In some cases the lawmakers from their respective states had come of their own accord, and were not appointed as a formal representative of their state legislature.
The group plans to meet again in December. Ohio Speaker Pro Tem Matt Huffman, who presided over Thursday’s meeting, said the group will likely work on the issue for many years.