Tom Coburn: The solution to America's constitutional crisis

Americans haven’t agreed on much during these long months of the presidential primary, but one thing seems clear: they are frustrated with the federal government and are eager to embrace outsiders, candidates without traditional political backgrounds who are willing to change how Washington works.

This wide-spread frustration stems from a sense that the Washington establishment is ignoring not only the will of the people, but also the vision of a limited federal government set forward by our Constitution.

That fear over federal overreach is justified. The president subverts Congressional power with executive orders that make or change laws. The Supreme Court reinterprets and disregards the clear meaning of statutes and the Constitution. Federal agencies run by un-elected bureaucrats have so much power that Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) calls them “the fourth branch of government.” Congress, meanwhile, shows little interest in curbing these abuses.

What can be done? Electing candidates who understand the proper role of the federal government is a start, but it’s not enough: recent years have shown us that what someone says when running for office may not hold true when the office is won.

Instead of relying on politicians in Washington, Americans should use the power they already have to push the federal government back within its constitutional bounds. The Founders knew that the closer power lies to the people, the safer liberty is. That’s why they gave states the ability to restrain the federal government through the amendment process.

Many people are under the false impression that the only way to amend the Constitution is with a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress, followed by ratification of 38 states. But Article V of the Constitution makes clear that there’s another way, one that puts the power in the hands of state legislatures: “Congress ... on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments.” Amendments proposed at this convention would then be subject to ratification by three-fourths of all states.

Simply put, state legislatures can call a convention to propose an amendment regardless of what Congress wants. This power was integrated into the Constitution at the insistence of George Mason, who wanted to ensure that Congress couldn’t obstruct attempts to curb its power. These resolutions have been filed in over thirty states, with Indiana this week becoming the sixth state to pass the measure.

This is no mere historical footnote but a cause with real momentum. That’s why constitutional scholar Robert Natelson and others believe “there is a significant chance that an amendments convention will meet within the next few years.”

Governor Greg Abbott of Texas expressed his support for a convention of states to propose Constitutional amendments that would realign the federal government with the will of the people. He joins an impressive list of supporters, including Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. Marco Rubio also declared that he would “put the weight of the presidency behind a constitutional convention of the states” to pass a balanced budget amendment and impose term limits on both Congress and the Supreme Court.

Those are two promising antidotes for the poison of federal overreach. Another is to limit federal spending and taxing to only those matters for which individual states do not hold jurisdiction. That would help control federal spending and prevent federal over-reach into issues that are best left to local governments.

Polls and primary results are starting to show what Americans want: major constitutionally-guided changes to the federal government. No matter who wins the presidency, citizens should encourage their state legislatures to call for a convention that will help restore the freedom that is our birthright as Americans.