New Jersey Lawmakers Call For U.S. Constitutional Convention

By John Celock

The Democratic-controlled New Jersey Assembly passed a resolution Monday calling for a U.S. constitutional convention to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

The Assembly voted 44-25, with two abstentions, to pass the resolution calling for a convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution. The resolution had previously been passed by the state Senate. Under Article V, two-thirds of the state legislatures can call for a constitutional convention to draft amendments then submitted to the states for approval. The procedure has never been used before in American history, with all amendments being generated by Congress.

“A constitutional convention is clearly needed to correct the disastrous impact of recent court decisions on the integrity of elections in New Jersey and throughout the nation,” Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Hamilton Township) said in a statement. “Citizens United opened the door to unlimited spending by shadowy, well-funded groups with no transparency or accountability – spending that drowns out the voice of the American voter and threatens the fundamental fairness of our democracy.”

Under Article V, two-thirds of the states can submit a petition for a convention. While hundreds of petitions have been submitted over history, Congress has said the petitions have to be in the same form. Article V has been a favorite topic for conservatives, who have said such a convention can be used to eliminate Obamacare or tackle Second Amendment rights.

Some Democrats in recent months have endorsed exploring Article V in order to overturn the Citizens United decision and to limit campaign donations. A new organization, the Assembly of State Legislatures has bipartisan leadership and is exploring the push for an Article V convention.

Article V conventions have been opposed by many who say that the convention could turn into a “runaway convention” and address issues outside of those in the petition. Supporters have said the state ratification process would root out bad amendments from a convention.

The debate in New Jersey on Monday had a bipartisan bent. Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Little Silver) told his colleagues that a convention could actually benefit both Republicans and Democrats from a campaign finance point of view.

“We restrict corporations but not unions. Perhaps a convention like this would come up with solutions,” O’Scanlon said.

O’Scanlon reminded his colleagues that the words of the resolution would not be governing the entire convention. He said that the delegates could be able to craft a campaign finance proposal that is more reaching.

Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris Township) told lawmakers that he does not see an issue with campaign finance in the United States. He said that there is a lot of political speech and noted that he wanted to know why liberals did not oppose hearing from MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, who he said works for a corporation. He also cited editorials from newspapers, noting that newspapers are corporations.

Carroll, one of the leading conservative Republicans in the New Jersey Legislature, said that he believes that there should be limits on campaign finance.

“America boosts a long and salutary tradition of robust forceful unrestrained political expression,” Carroll said. “The influence of money is grossly understated. It profoundly insults the American people to imply or insert that they are so stupid that they can’t make informed political decision that they cannot assess the merits of political arguments before them.”