The constitutional convention held in 1967 was “full of sound and fury” and, in the end, “signif[ied] nothing.” William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5. The vote was 1.3 million in favor and 3.5 million against the proposed constitution.
In relation to a constitutional convention in 2019, there are lessons to be drawn:
• An effort to change everything at once will fail. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
• Delegates to the 1967 constitutional convention were not philosopher-kings. They were representatives of special interests. Upstate, suburbs and downstate. Management and union. Producers and moochers. The 1967 constitutional convention was rendered thereby ineffective. A similar circumstance will cause a 2019 constitutional convention to be ineffective.
• In 2019, the number of delegates would be 204. Nothing can be accomplished by a mob.
Compare that large number of delegates and the small number of delegates who met in Philadelphia for the Convention of 1787 (55).
What’s more, the men of 1787 were educated, talented, experienced, battle-hardened and patriotic. Who, today, compares with any of them?
• The most-needed constitutional changes:
(a) A unicameral legislature, the New York Assembly, must be established. There must be creation of the initiative and of the referendum. However, politicians will fight elimination of their monopoly to legislate.
(b) All New York governmental units, at all levels, are indebted up to their eyeballs. Interest payments on public bonds consume billions of dollars every year. Therefore, all borrowing, direct or indirect, by the state or any subdivision or any instrumentality, must be prohibited. However, politicians will fight to keep the spigot open.
(c) The structure of state trial courts and appellate courts must be simplified, provided the traditional names of the major courts—Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Court of Appeals—are retained. Only two modes of elevation to the bench must be used. Nomination by the governor, and confirmation by the Senate, for appellate positions. Elections for trial positions. However, politicians will fight to continue their misuse of judgeships as slots for rewarding supporters.
• Voters, too, will fight needed constitutional changes. The progressive poop added to the New York Constitution in 1938 must be swept away. The impediment is New York City voters. They would reject outright a return to Americanism from New Deal socialism.
On the ballot question of holding a constitutional convention, New York State voters should vote “No.”
The solution is piecemeal constitutional revision.
There are 20 articles in the New York Constitution. If, after the floperoo 1967 constitutional convention, article-by-article constitutional revision had been put before the electorate at the 1970 general election and every 2 years thereafter, the job would have been done, theoretically, in 40 years, i.e., by the 2008 general election.
In practice, 32 years, i.e., by 2000. Some articles, such as article IV (Executive) and article V (Officers and Civil Departments) would have been considered together.
A point made by advocates of a 2019 constitutional convention is that the legislature is corrupt. That is a truism. All politics is corrupt.
Instead of building a corrupt entity (a 2019 constitutional convention) which would parallel an existing corrupt entity (the legislature), advocates of a 2019 constitutional convention should direct their energies to forming a slate of not-corrupt candidates for all Senate seats and for all Assembly seats. The slate would challenge incumbent corruptocrats with not-corrupt newcomers.
Assume that, in 2018, voters elect the slate. The first-ever not-corrupt legislature in New York State history would be brought into existence. It is that legislature, and its successors, which can undertake to revise the New York Constitution, article by article, every two years, beginning in the 2022 general election.
The writer is a lawyer. He wrote eight essays on needed revisions of the New York Constitution. Among the essays is “New Judiciary Article for the New York Constitution”. http://ssrn.com/abstract=1455502.
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