Early Returns

Constitutional Conventions Are Still a Terrible Idea

Wisconsin may join the call for an Article V constitutional convention in order to pass a balanced-budget amendment. Plus: this morning's links.

Demagogic amendments not allowed.

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The worst idea in U.S. politics is, unfortunately, moving forward again. Wisconsin may join the call for an Article V constitutional convention in order to pass a balanced-budget amendment.

The amendment itself is a terrible idea. Not because of the substance -- well, I think the substance is unfortunate, but I suppose reasonable people can differ on fiscal policy and balanced federal budgets. No, a federal balanced-budget constitutional amendment is terrible because of process. The Constitution rightly gives the power of the purse to Congress and the president, but enforcing a balanced-budget amendment would mean transferring at least some of that power to the courts. Right now it is entirely up to the elected branches of government to choose balance, surplus or deficit. But if a deficit was unconstitutional and Congress and the president persisted anyway, it would ultimately be up to the courts to enforce the Constitution -- perhaps not even just requiring a balanced budget, but also dictating how it should be done. 

That's bad enough, but it's still the case that no one knows what a constitutional convention would actually do if one were ever called. We don't know how the delegates would be chosen, who they would represent, how they would deliberate and make their decisions, and how (if at all) they could be restrained if they chose to propose other changes to the constitution. Yes, there is one major constraint: Any amendment adopted would still need to be ratified by three-quarters of the states. But, frankly, I don't trust a convention to propose sensible measures, and I don't trust the states to refrain from ratifying demagogic amendments should any be proposed.  

Oh, and yes, it's just as terrible an idea when liberals call for a convention to get a campaign-finance amendment adopted. Or for anything else. 

1. Dan Drezner with a harsh critique of the Donald Trump administration's explanation of its foreign policy

2. Jason Brownlee at the Monkey Cage with some good news about global democracies.

3. C. Jarrett Dieterle on a new paper by Matt Glassman explaining why Congress is failing to hold its own in the fight of separated institutions sharing powers.

4. Vox's Sean Illing talks to Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels about democracy

5. Heather Hurlburt on the U.S. faction behind Trump's foreign policy of rejecting the world

6. And a useful update from Kevin Drum on the Trump administration's war on Islamic State.

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    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

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    Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

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