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Progressives call push to change Constitution 'risky'

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Suzanne Potter

(California News Service) Progressive groups are speaking out against the idea of a constitutional convention, warning it could be used to impose conservative policies on things such as civil rights, guns, voting rights and abortion.

Right-wing groups such as the Federalist Society have said they want to require a balanced budget and limit the power to tax, moves critics say would lead to huge cuts in Medicare, Social Security, education, Medicaid, and environmental protection.

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Nancy MacLean, professor of history and public policy at Duke University, noted Article Five of the Constitution requires consent from just 34 states to call for a convention.

"The organizers of the convention effort have made clear the votes taken would not be based on population but on one vote per state, so as to grossly underrepresent the majority of Americans," MacLean pointed out.

It would give outsize influence to states with tiny populations such as Wyoming at the expense of huge states such as California. Over the years, many states have called for a constitutional convention on specific topics. Golden State lawmakers just called for one on gun control. Conservative groups argued the requests could be aggregated to reach the 34-state threshold and force a convention.

Russ Feingold, president of the American Constitution Society and a former U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, just wrote a book, warning a convention is likely if Republicans win full control of Congress next year.

"They're asserting that you can just mix and match these and that meets the constitutional requirements," Feingold emphasized. "It's not right. And the Supreme Court doesn't appear to have the authority to step in and stop it."

Jonathan Mehta Stein, executive director of California Common Cause, said the risk of a runaway convention is too great, because there are very few rules in place.

"We would have no idea who's seeking to influence the members of the constitutional Convention," Stein pointed out. "What lobbying would be happening behind the scenes? Would there be public-records requirements? Would there be transparency requirements? We just have no idea."

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