Two Washington State resolutions call for amending the U.S. Constitution:
- SJM 8001 – 2019-20: Calling on Congress to exercise its authority under Article V of the United States Constitution to regulate money spent on elections. (Sponsors: Hasegawa, Frockt)
- SJM 8002 – 2019-20: Asking Congress to call a limited convention, authorized under Article V of the United States Constitution, for the purpose of proposing a free and fair elections amendment to that Constitution. (Sponsors: Kuderer, Palumbo, Wellman, Takko)
The first resolution, SJM 8001, aims to reverse the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that declared that campaign donations are a form of free speech and that corporations are people. You can read the full text of the resolution — it’s just one page — here. It states: “Your Memorialists respectfully pray that the c[sic]ongress of the United States exercise the authority granted to it under Article V of the Constitution to pass and send to the several states for ratification an amendment to the Constitution that…” restores to the states the authority to regulate campaign donations.
You can read an email from Fix Democracy First in favor of SJM 8001 near the end of this article.
The second resolution also aims to assure fair elections by overturning Citizens United. You can read the text of the resolution here. But, unlike the first resolution, it calls for a “limited” constitutional convention — which some progressive groups think is a very risky endeavor, because a constitutional convention might get hijacked by Republicans, who might push for harmful changes to the U.S. Constitution, or an entirely new document.
Common Cause explains:
The U.S. Constitution offers two ways to add amendments to our nation’s governing document in Article V. The process that has always used for all 27 amendments added to the Constitution since 1789 is for an amendment to pass with a two-thirds vote in each chamber of Congress and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
The other, untested way laid out in Article V is for two-thirds of state legislatures to call for a constitutional convention, also known as an “Article V convention,” to add amendments to the Constitution once they are ratified by three-fourths of the states. Throughout the 230-year history of the U.S. Constitution, an Article V convention has never been called by Congress.
My understanding of SJM 8001 is that it’s trying to employ the first way to amend the Constitution: by having Congress pass an amendment, which then gets ratified by the states.
But SJM 8002 is suggesting to use the second, more risky way: a constitutional convention.
Common Cause thinks the second way is risky: U.S. Constitution Threatened as Article V Convention Movement Nears Success “A well-funded, highly coordinated national effort is underway to call a constitutional convention, under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, for the first time in history. The result of such a convention could be a complete overhaul of the Constitution and supporters of the convention are dangerously close to succeeding. ”
Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks and WolfPac came to Olympia to lobby for SJM 8002. See The Young Turks Come to Washington State on a Quest to Overturn Citizens United, which presents arguments both for and against the position that a constitutional convention would be risky.
At the end of this article is a copy of email from Senator Patty Kuderer in defense of SJM 8002. Her strongest argument is that three quarters of states would need to ratify any proposal coming out of a constitutional convention. So that would likely prevent any dangerous changes from happening. She points out, too, that the first way of amending the Constitution is risky too: Congress too could propose a crazy amendment. But, there again, three-quarters of the states would have to approve. Is that any less risky?
Yet a constitutional convention sure sounds more drastic than just adding a single amendment, and that psychological factor could result in more drastic changes.
I’m surprised both resolutions are being considered. The first one seems less risky and could still amend the Constitution.
I phoned Senator Hasegawa’s office — he sponsored SJM 8001. His assistant said that my understanding of the two resolutions is accurate. She said, too, that Senator Hasegawa voted Yes on sending SJM 8002 out of committee.
Email I got from Fix Democracy First
We need your help moving SSJM 8001 out of Senate State Rules Committee!
Dear Donald –As reported last week, the Substitute Senate Joint Memorial 8001, sponsored by Senator Hasegawa, had a public hearing in the Senate State Government Committee on Friday, February 22nd, then passed in executive session to the Senate Rules Committee.We need your help to keep this memorial moving forward!Contact SENATE RULES COMMITTEE Members!This memorial would call on Congress to exercise its authority under Article V of the United States Constitution to regulate money spent on elections. It includes substitute language put forth by Fix Democracy First to include in an amendment. These points came from I-735, our WA State initiative that passed in by 63% statewide in 2016, and in all ten Congressional districts, and include:
The ability to that establish corporations and other legal entities are not actual persons under the law and should be treated differently;
The spending of money in elections is NOT a form of free speech;
All money in elections should be able to be regulated, on both a local and national level;
And finally that prompt disclosure of campaigns contributions is vital for public trust.
Letter from Senator Patty Kuderer about SJM 8002
Thank you for your email regarding SJM 8002, calling for a constitutional convention to propose an amendment to overturn Citizens United. For starters, the Constitution provides two methods for proposing amendments: constitutional convention and Congress. Both approaches are currently making their way through our Legislature.
Now on to your concern. Please know I have fully vetted the process in SJM 8002. First, every expert you identify will have to confirm that a constitutional convention cannot amend the Constitution. Like its counterpart, a memorial to Congress, it can only propose amendments. Second, even if you assume a convention could go far afield of its original, limited purpose, fully 3/4 of the states would still need to ratify any proposed amendment. There is no way that a complete overhaul of our Constitution, including removing freedom of speech, association or even religion, would ever actually be ratified. And I am including red and blue states in that assessment.
Finally, the argument that a convention could go off kilter is equally applicable to the other memorial, SJM 8001, which directs Congress to overturn Citizens United. What’s to prevent Congress from going off kilter and proposing damaging amendments to the Constitution? Given what we’ve witnessed since President Trump came to office that is not just theoretical but a clear possibility. But again, like its counterpart the constitutional convention, Congress may only propose amendments. Once again, if Congress decides to rewrite the Constitution to eliminate our foundational freedoms, 38 states stand in their way. Simply put, it’s just not going to happen.
Calling for a limited constitutional convention puts pressure on Congress to act – and to act consistent with what is contained in the Memorial. A memorial to Congress does the exact same thing, which is why I support SJM 8001, too. But if we get bogged down fighting amongst ourselves over the best approach to persuade Congress to do its job and overturn Citizens United, nothing will get accomplished and money will continue to buy elections. But if we understand that both approaches put pressure on Congress to act, we increase the odds of getting the corrupting influence of money out of politics.
I do appreciate your feedback and that you took the time to write to me. Please feel free to reach out with any additional concerns.
Senator Patty Kuderer
Washington State Senate – 48th Legislative District
Olympia office: 360-786-7694
Bellevue office: 425-453-3064