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Forget for the moment, if you will, all variant partisan predispositions — at least long enough to grant that New Mexico’s U.S. Sen. Tom Udall is one of those rare politicians who will persevere in the service of a conviction.
Let me explain my point, and for starters we should recall that the United States Constitution has been amended only 27 times since it was adopted in 1787.
We need also remind ourselves that that fully 10 of those amendments were adopted all at one time, right after the present republic was instituted when what we call the Bill of Rights was appended to the original Constitution.
In short, amending the Constitution isn’t the least bit easy.
It requires time, tenacity and resolve, which is precisely what the constitutional framers intended when they hammered it out in Philadelphia back in 1787. They even made it hard to so much as propose an amendment to the Constitution.
One constitutionally permissible method for proposing an amendment would have at least two-thirds of the states call conventions for that purpose. It is an approach so cumbersome that it has never been used, mainly because getting two thirds of the states to act in concert is next to impossible.
The other way to propose constitutional amendments is for two-thirds of the members of both houses of Congress — Senate and House of Representatives — to agree and vote in favor of a proposal that would add, delete, or clarify the Constitution in some way.
Two-thirds! Think upon it. Presidential hair has been known to turn gray simply trying to get a simple majority in both houses of Congress to keep the government running by agreeing to pass a budget.
But as the old saying goes, “wonders never cease,” and Congress has been known to propose amendments to the Constitution, whereupon the proposal is remanded to the states for ratification.
A proposed constitutional amendment doesn’t amend anything, least of all the Constitution, until it has been ratified by the states and, here again, a simple majority of states won’t do.
As the constitutional framers laid things out, nothing less than three-fourth of the states must agree to ratify a proposed amendment and, aside from those first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights, that has only happened 17 times in the history of these United States.
Which brings us back to Udall and the subject of perseverance.
Just a couple of weeks ago the Senate Judiciary Committee, on a 10-8 vote, agreed to send a proposed constitutional amendment to the whole Senate for its consideration. Known as Senate Joint Resolution 19, this proposed amendment is the handiwork of Udall, who introduced it well over a year ago.
Lots of other determined senators played key roles in shepherding the measure through the Senate Judiciary’s subcommittee and full-committee hearings, but Udall was the bulldog all the way to the Senate floor.
Senate Joint Resolution 19 is nothing less than a constitutional attempt to reverse the damage inflicted by a series of recent Supreme Court decisions, which have laid waste to American campaign finance laws designed to reign in the gross amount of money that has turned our elections into a bidder’s war for political power and influence.
As Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in a dissent to one such recent court ruling, the McCutcheon case, that decision “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across this Nation.”
SJR 19 would allow Congress and the states to address that threat.
But a proposed constitutional amendment won’t undo the high court’s damage until it is ratified.