The recent anniversary of the Magna Carta was a reminder that the law is higher than the king — that rules matter. Rules are particularly important when they limit the discretion of those in power.
Unfortunately, Louisiana Senate President John Alario appears to have played fast and loose with the Senate’s “Rules of Order” last month to preclude the Louisiana Senate from voting on a major grass-roots initiative.
Organized and growing in all 50 states, the Convention of States Project seeks to rebuild limitations on federal power using Article V of the U.S. Constitution.
Once 34 state legislatures pass the appropriate resolutions, Article V requires Congress to call a state-led convention for proposing constitutional amendments designed to restrain federal power.
Under the strong leadership of Rep. Ray Garofalo, bolstered by dedicated volunteer leaders and thousands of Louisiana supporters, the Convention of States Project resolution (HCR 2) passed the Louisiana House of Representatives by a margin of 60-38 on May 6. The Senate rules then required Alario to assign it to the proper Senate committee, based on subject matter.
Instead, he assigned HCR 2 to the Judiciary B Committee, which has no plausible basis for jurisdiction over it. One can only speculate about Alario’s motive for the obviously inappropriate assignment, but the fact that Judiciary B is one of only five Democrat-controlled standing committees offers a clue.
The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has specific jurisdiction over matters of “intergovernmental relations between the state and the United States or other states” is controlled by Republicans.
While the Convention of States Project is a nonpartisan effort to restore constitutional governance — a goal that should be shared by every American — its strongest support thus far has come from conservative quarters. So it appears that Sen. Alario ignored the rules in order to assign this resolution to one of the few committees likely to kill it.
Unless there is some other explanation, this was a blatant misuse of power — precisely what the Convention of States Project is designed to end at the federal level.
Article V gives the states a final check on all branches of our national government, allowing us to restore constitutional limits on their power. But because this trump card must be played by our state legislatures, it offers us little hope if we give our state legislative leaders carte blanche to ignore the rules and pervert the political process.
I hope that Louisianians will insist that their elected officials — senate presidents included — play by the rules in dealing with grass-roots initiatives to reclaim self-governance. If we fail to object when elected officials flout the rules behind closed doors, we hasten an end to the supremacy of law — and invite tyranny.
staff counsel, Convention of States Project