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About A Constitutional Convention

Susan Campbell

October 28, 2008

Why all the fuss about a state constitutional convention?

Because you may not have all the facts.

Representatives from such groups as the League of Women Voters of Connecticut, Connecticut chapter of National Association of Social Workers, the Connecticut AFL-CIO, and Love Makes a Family oppose the convention, the possibility of which will be on the state's ballot next week.

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal calls the convention "risky." Others have called it worse, and here's why:

Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court granted marriage equality to same-sex couples. If a convention is called, depending who gets to write the new ballot questions and chances are, it won't be you or me that new right could be threatened. So could a woman's right to her reproductive destiny, and a host of other hard-fought gains that rest on right-minded judges making good decisions.

Before we start whining about activist judges (or "judicial tyranny"; more on that later), remember that it took the courts to desegregate schools, to render mixed marriage acceptable, to make sure the laws do what they're supposed to do. I consider myself a populist, but popular vote doesn't pick the convention delegates, nor do voters write the questions. State legislators determine who goes to the convention, and that's politics-once-removed. Delegates can then, in turn, propose absolutely anything for the ballot.

One of the loudest proponents of the convention, Family Institute of Connecticut, says on its website that a convention is necessary because "there is no ordinary way for citizens to have their voices heard on critical constitutional matters." That is hyperbole. What's keeping FIC supporters from picking up their phones and calling their legislators? Or e-mailing them? Or testifying before any of the multiple committee hearings that are held at the Capitol throughout the year? They surely know this. The institute which also calls the afore-mentioned decision "judicial tyranny" has sponsored many protests against marriage equality in the past few years.

Do they think their voices weren't heard, just because the answer was no?

So far, says the League of Women Voters, the state has had constitutional conventions in 1818, 1902, and 1965. Since then, the constitution has been amended 30 times, without a convention.

In fact, what at first blush looks like a good idea is actually "a very interesting way of taking politics out of the hands of people," said Teresa C. Younger, executive director of the state's Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. "The idea of a convention every 20 years made sense when we didn't have all these mechanisms to communicate with people computers, cellphones. If you have a problem with something that's in the constitution, you can pick up the phone and talk to a legislator.

"The constitution should be a living, breathing document, and so should the political process," she said. If the idea of a convention began as a way of engaging the voter, it has ceased to be that. FIC is putting its weight behind a yes vote, hoping they can then sway popular vote against marital equality. The latest Quinnipiac University poll shows that 53 percent of Connecticut voters support the court's vote to extend marriage equality to gays and lesbians, while 42 percent oppose it, but why run the risk of a chattering pack thwarting this important victory?

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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