A bad idea is gaining some steam among politicians determined to rein in Washington: amend the United States Constitution to give states the power to repeal federal laws and regulations. Organizers of the misguided effort say that leaders in 12 states, including Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos and Attorney General Pam Bondi, already have endorsed the plan. This is another overreaction from Republicans unhappy with the Obama administration on health care reform and other issues, and it would undermine the fundamental balance between federal and state authority.
The proposed "Repeal Amendment" is a pretty simple idea. It says any federal law or regulation would be repealed after two-thirds of state legislatures vote to demand it. Imagine the federal issues that could be thrust into state legislatures for consideration. Beyond health care reform — the issue that sparked this initiative — add environmental regulations, entitlement reform and tax issues. The list of potential state gripes is endless, and the result would be a never-ending cloud of uncertainty over public policy.
There already are checks on the federal government. Federal courts can invalidate any statute or rule that violates the Constitution. The entire House of Representatives and approximately one-third of the Senate is up for election every two years, giving voters a strong voice in determining the country's direction. And state interests are well represented in Congress, with every member elected to represent a state or a district within a state. There is no deficit of loyalty by members of Congress to their states' parochial interests.
One of the more concerning elements of the Repeal Amendment effort is that supporters want to get it adopted by constitutional convention. Under Article V of the Constitution, there are two ways to amend the founding document. The first is through a vote of two-thirds of both houses of Congress and then ratification by three-quarters of states, though in this case Congress would be unlikely to restrict its own power. The second approach is through a constitutional convention, called when two-thirds of state legislatures demand one. Amendments proposed by such a convention would then have to be ratified by three-quarters of states.
No convention has convened since the original one in 1787, despite multiple efforts, because there is always the possibility that convention delegates will start tinkering with all sorts of provisions in the Constitution. Elected state officials in Florida and elsewhere already have a full plate of issues, and their time can be better spent on those challenges than on advocating a partisan-fueled constitutional amendment whose consequences would be far reaching.