Incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is part of a class of Republicans who say they want to change the country fundamentally — and to that end, Cantor isn’t dismissing a plan by legislators in his home state of Virgina to blow up the Constitutional system and replace it with one that would give state governments veto power over federal laws.
For several weeks now, conservative legal circles have been buzzing with Virginia House Speaker Bill Howell’s plan to amend the Constitution so that a 2/3 vote of the states could overturn overturn any federal law passed by the Congress and signed by the President. Howell first floated the idea in a September Wall Street Journal op-ed he co-wrote with Georgetown University law professor Randy Barnett.
“At present, the only way for states to contest a federal law or regulation is to bring a constitutional challenge in federal court or seek an amendment to the Constitution,” the pair wrote. “A state repeal power provides a targeted way to reverse particular congressional acts and administrative regulations without relying on federal judges or permanently amending the text of the Constitution to correct a specific abuse.”
The pair say the plan is a response to the federal overreach created by “two ‘progressive’ constitutional amendments adopted in 1913” — the 16th Amendment creating a federal income tax and the 17th Amendment allowing for the direct election of U.S. Senators, which were previously appointed by state legislatures.
Undoing both those amendments has been a key tenet of tea party rhetoric for a while now.
Howell plans to kick off the repeal amendment push by bringing a bill calling for a Constitutional Convention to the floor of the Virginia legislature this January. If he can get 2/3 of the states to go along with calling for a Constitutonal Convention, then that would trigger one of the two amendment processes under Article Five of the Constitution.
This, of course, is not the standard way the Constitution has been amended in the past. Amendments usually emerge from the Congress, which must pass them by a 2/3 vote in both the House and Senate before sending them to the states to be ratified by a 3/4 vote.
In order for that to happen, of course, Howell would need allies in the Congress willing to hand over federal veto power to the states. He may have found his ally in Cantor, a fellow Virginian who is the number two man in the large Republican House majority that will be sworn in this January.
Appearing on Fox Business last week, Howell said that Cantor “was very interested” in the proposal and promised that he had “several members” of Congress who will put forward the Amendment in the House when the 112th Congress convenes in January.
Cantor’s office confirmed to TPM that the incoming Majority Leader is interested in the Repeal Amendment, but said that so far Cantor is simply urging his colleagues to keep “an open mind.”
“The Repeal Amendment would provide a check on the ever-expanding federal government, protect against Congressional overreach, and get the government working for the people again, not the other way around,” Cantor said in a statement. “In order to return America to opportunity, responsibility, and success, we must reverse course and the Repeal Amendment is a step in that direction.”
Read Cantor’s full statement on the Repeal Amendment below:
Washington has grown far too large and has become far too intrusive, reaching into nearly every aspect of our lives. In just the past few years, Washington has assumed more control over our economy and the private sector through excessive regulations and unprecedented mandates. Our liberty and freedom has lessened as the size and scope of the federal government has exploded. Massive expenditures like the stimulus, unconstitutional mandates like the takeover of health care, and intrusions into the private sector like the auto-bailouts have threatened the very core of the American free market. It’s time to return America to the common sense conservative principles of limited government, free enterprise, and individual responsibility. The Repeal Amendment would provide a check on the ever-expanding federal government, protect against Congressional overreach, and get the government working for the people again, not the other way around. In order to return America to opportunity, responsibility, and success, we must reverse course and the Repeal Amendment is a step in that direction.