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Law Professors Talk About The “Ifs” Of Constitutional Convention

by | Oct 30, 2008 8:24pm
() Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Election 2008, Election Policy

Christine Stuart photo

There are still a number of unanswered questions about what would happen if voters decided in favor of holding a constitutional convention, Professors Richard Kay and Justin Long told a small group of students gathered at the University of Connecticut Law School Thursday. 

The legislature could appoint itself to sit as delegates to a constitutional convention, delegates could be elected like they were in 1965, the convention could be convened on a Tuesday and end on a Wednesday, or the legislature could allocate just $1 for the convention, Long said.

He said the notion that holding a constitutional convention would lead to citizen initiative or referendum is misleading because there are a number of things that must happen along the way.

If the legislature wants to preserve its power at the expense of the people it can structure a convention in way that preserves its power, Long said. 

The legislature has to balance the risk and danger of a convention against the dissatisfaction the people feel with the existing arrangement, Kay said.

“How out, do the outs feel?” Kay added.

Christine Stuart photo

According to a University of Connecticut poll of 502 people released on Thursday
50 percent approve of a constitutional convention and 65 percent support amending the constitution to include citizen initiative.

Despite what supporters of the convention think, the legislature has a lot of control over a convention because it gets to decide how the delegates are picked, Long said.

In 1965 the delegates were chosen by party leaders then approved by the voters in a special election. The convention was split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, with 42 delegates from each party. 

The only reason there was a convention held in 1965 was because a federal court decision forced it to reapportion the state legislature, Long said. It was also in 1965 that the state decided voters should be asked about whether the state should hold a constitutional convention every 20 years. In 1986 voters rejected a convention.

A constitution is the “will of the people,” Kay said.  It changes over time through judicial interpretation, but those changes aren’t necessarily endorsed by the people, he said.

Of the states with some form of citizen initiative, all were approved through a constitutional convention, none were approved through the legislative process, Kay said.

There are two ways to amend the constitution. One is through the legislative process, which only 5 percent of voters in the poll knew, and the other is through a constitutional convention—a question about whether the state should hold a convention appears on the ballot every 20 years.

Amendments to the constitution may be proposed by any member of the General Assembly. If the amendment is approved by three-quarters of the General Assembly it will appear on the ballot for the November election in the next even number year. If a majority of the voters approve the amendment it becomes part of the constitution.

If the General Assembly approves an amendment by a simple majority it has to be approved again by the General Assembly in the following year before it appears on the ballot.

So how scared should voters be of a constitutional convention?

“Who knows,” Kay said.

He said once a constitutional convention is convened the delegates could rewrite the entire constitution or abolish the bill of rights.

“The question is what are risks and which are we more afraid of, the convention or the status quo?” Kay said.

Kay seemed surprised by the results of the Thursday’s UConn poll. When asked to predict what happens on Tuesday he said “I gotta think it’s gonna lose. This is the land of steady habits.”

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(9) Archived Comments

posted by: Walt | October 31, 2008  1:53pm

Why are the teacher’s unions, and   the municipal employees unions   throwing so much money into the “vote NO”  campaign?

My guess is that they have the legislators in their pockets,  and fear giving us a direct vote on some of their special privileges.

Anyone know?

posted by: Paul Garlinghouse | October 31, 2008  11:29pm

Perhaps the unions are just trying to counter the misleading ads being put on television by the Knights of Columbus, in which voters are never informed what the Knights hope to accomplish in a constitutional convention.  We know they want to ban gay marriage, probably abortion and who knows what else they have in mind.

posted by: Steve | November 1, 2008  8:10am

I lived in a Western state (read…ballot initiatives) for many years before moving to CT. 11 years ago. I was amazed (and appalled) at condecending attitude of the politicians in this state toward the electorate. And no ballot initiatives to correct the “elected” officials. This is a state badly in need of a property tax cap like prop. 13. The unions and professional organizations(like social workers,community organizations) are the ones opposing this measure. They claim that “special interests” will control the constitutional convention, when in fact it is THEY who are the special interest groups in this state. Connecticut is almost totally unaffordable to live in unless you are one of the priveleged who works for the schools, towns,cities and state.  Their attitude is “we’ve got ours” go get yours or get out! Well, as far as I can see a Constitutional Convention might be the only way the rank and file taxpaying citizens of this state will get a shot at reasonable taxes.

posted by: Walt | November 1, 2008  3:07pm

Contrary to Steve’s comments above, as a Knight, I believe the Knights could not be more open in stating their interests, which indeed do include opposition to gay marriage as well to the killing of innocent babies,  Have heard of no other goals.

The “NO”  vote campaign is financed by govt. employees unions as mentioned above,  the abortion groups,  like Planned Parenthood and NARAL,  coupled with the homosexusl   groups like GLAAD and Queers Without Borders (Don’t rant at me, they chose the name, not I.),

I’ll certainly vote “yes”  and if it wins.  will look carefully at   the Convention’s
detailed recommendations,  each of which as I understand it,  must be approved by us, as voters,  before it becomes effective.

posted by: Walt | November 1, 2008  3:24pm

WOW

Was commenting re
Garlinghouse above, not Steve.

Sorry,  Steve.  Messed up!

posted by: Mike Green | November 2, 2008  8:58pm

I think that this is an important event.  It is a measure of the will of the people.  However, It needs to be the will of the people and not the tyranny of the majority.  There has been much concern about insituting an initiative, referendum, and recall.  We need these tools.  Now we do not have to be like California.  That state is a bit too easy to have recall and initiative.  We can strike a balance between a system that actually speaks to the will of the people by ensuring that, like any other law, the initiatives and referendums pass consitutional scrutiny.  Michigan has just such a system.  they passed a cap on property taxes that strikes a balance between high property taxes and the need to have tax payer funding for local services. 

the nice thing about a clean slate is that we can learn from the mistakes of other states.  This is not something to be feared but embraced VOTE Yes

posted by: Kerri | November 3, 2008  4:46am

If some people worried less about what the “abortionists” and “homosexuals” were doing and were more mindful of their own actions, perhaps we would not be so caught up in the sham of voting. This amendment would enable such people to be further distracted from real issues like poverty and the ongoing wars of aggression because they would be so tied up in trying to incite more fear over what adults decide to do in living their lives.

posted by: Doug | November 13, 2008  4:01pm

I was not fully informed on what question 1 was all about, I had several discussions with others and found them to be just as confused as I was.

I voted yes knowing that a yes vote would enable we as voters to be allowed to push for referandams on things like gay marriage and school vouchers.

After reading this and other articles I am satisfied with my vote and saddened that not enough info was available on what the vote was really about.  Enough money was spent on a “no vote campaign” and it seemed to work.

All issues are important and should be allowed to be voted on if a majority feels that way.

posted by: lothar | November 13, 2008  8:42pm

C’mon, Doug. Wake up.

The majority was fine with slavery as well. The majority was fine with segregation. The majority was fine with not allowing women or minorities to vote. Stop trying to hide blatant discrimination behind a “majority” argument. It simply doesn’t fly. Further, in a few decades minorities will outnumber whites in America. Let’s hope racism is gone by then, but I would imagine that the current majority would like to have equal protection intact when that time comes.

Let’s move on.