By LaKeshia Myers
While the Wisconsin State Assembly received quite a bit of attention last week at its last floor session of 2019 due to deliberating the official name of the capitol evergreen (yes, it is in fact a Christmas tree); the political rumblings during the Federalism and Interstate Relations committee were, in my opinion, of greater importance. The committee heard testimony with regarding Assembly Joint Resolution 77, which would require the Wisconsin legislature to submit to the United States Congress an application to call for a convention of the states.
A convention of states is mentioned in article five of the U.S. Constitution as a mechanism by which new amendments can be added to the constitution. A convention of states has only been used once in the 243-year history of America, in 1787, when convention delegates voted to ratify the U.S. Constitution.
The Constitution that currently governs our country to this day. The need for the constitutional ratification was necessary in 1787, as we had no formal document that outlined in explicit detail personal rights or official government operations. Prior to 1787, the United States was loosely organized around the Articles of Confederation.
According to ThoughtCo, a leading education site that promotes lifelong learning, the guiding principle of the Articles was to preserve the independence and sovereignty of the states. The weak central government established by the Articles received only those powers which the former colonies had recognized as belonging to king and parliament. As the Confederation Congress attempted to govern the continually growing American states, delegates discovered that the limitations placed upon the central government rendered the articles ineffective. Hence, the need for a constitution and the divided powers held today by the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and the explicit powers granted to state governments.
The states need the federal government, it was evident in 1787 and history has proved this time and again. This is why I am vehemently against calling for a convention of states. When I have spoken to representatives of the Convention of States Project (COSP), the national organization that seeks to promote the convention of states, I have stated that a convention of states would be detrimental for historically marginalized groups, especially people of color and women, and African Americans in particular.
At the constitutional convention of 1787, pressing issues of suffrage and the institution of slavery were unaddressed and left to the states to decide. Because of this, slavery lasted another seventy-six years (abolished in 1863), suffrage was granted to black men 82 years later (1865), and women’s suffrage one hundred thirty-two years later (1919). All of which were rectified by the federal government.
The Convention of States Project is a champion of state’s rights—a term that immediately evokes fear and concern for me and many in my community. Historically, it has been state law that was used to oppress and control marginalized groups of people. State laws were responsible for:
• The black codes– Immediately after the Civil War ended, Southern states enacted “black codes” denied African Americans the right to testify against whites, to serve on juries or in state militias, vote, own firearms, or start a job without the approval of the previous employer.
• Anti-miscegenation laws-meaning individuals of different races were banned from marrying.
• Poll Taxes & Ballot Access Testing-The notion that a fee be paid and/or a literacy test be passed in order for African Americans to vote.
• Parental Rights of Rapists-If a woman is a victim of rape and a child is conceived, her rapist has parental authority of the child. Seven states still have these laws on their books.
• Child marriage-Minors are able to be married prior to the age of eighteen. In some states, like Wisconsin, a child can be married as young as age sixteen.
Conversely, it was the federal government that stepped in to provide relief to those who were treated differently under the laws of states. Federal laws are responsible for:
• Civil Rights Act of 1866- Which gave African American citizens the same right that a white citizen has to make and enforce contracts, sue and be sued, give evidence in court, and inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property.
• Civil Rights Act of 1964- Ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin
• Voting Rights Act of 1965- Outlawed the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War, including literacy tests as a prerequisite to voting.
• Loving v. Virginia 1967-Outlawed anti-miscegenation laws in the United States and was the basis of Obergefell v. Hodges which guaranteed the right to marry for same sex couples.
• Reed v. Reed 1972-Outlawed gender discrimination against women, reversing a state statute that men must be preferred to women in matters of estate administration.
• Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tires 2007-which outlawed pay discrimination against women in the workplace.
As you can see, without federal input from Congress or the Supreme Court, America would still be living in an age where supremacy, whether white and/or male would be dominant. It has been through federal interaction that America has grown to be much more inclusive and equitable. The freedoms that I enjoy today, are precious and are not something I would dare place in jeopardy. By agreeing to a Convention of States, the laws that help provide a better quality of life for those of my gender and my race would be at risk. That is not something that I am willing to gamble with.