COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – A House committee approved a bill Tuesday that would add South Carolina to a list of states calling for a convention to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
The 14-8 vote in the House Judiciary Committee came after arguments from Black lawmakers who fear the open-ended process never used since the Constitution’s ratification in 1788 could remove amendments that ended slavery and secured African American voting rights and citizenship.
A conservative lawmaker suggested religious protections and gun rights could be at stake.
The bill would allow South Carolina to join calls for a constitutional convention, limiting the items that could be taken up to spending checks on the federal government, limiting the federal government’s jurisdiction and power, and setting term limits for Congress.
About 15 states have passed similar resolutions, and the Constitution requires two-thirds of states, or 34, to call for the convention.
Supporters point out whatever amendments are suggested by the convention would have to be passed by three-fourths of the states – 38 legislatures or special conventions.
“We all know how hard it is to get one bill out of our General Assembly,” said Rep. Jason Elliott, a Greenville Republican.
But the only constitutional convention in nearly 250 years of the nation so far – the one that wrote the current Constitution from scratch – was initially called just to make changes to the original government charter of the U.S., the Articles of Confederation.
Rep. Cezar McKnight, a Kingstree Democrat, said that as a Black man, he could not approve of a process that could “change the very fabric of the United States of America”
“What are we to do” if the protections against slavery were removed, McKnight asked. “Find good white folks to buy us who won’t work us so hard?”
On the other side, conservative Republican Rep. John McCravy said he couldn’t support a process that could lead to liberal Democrats in Congress appointing themselves to the convention to write the amendments and destroy what he considers a cherished document that allows people to worship as they please and protect themselves with weapons.
U.S. House Speaker “Nancy Pelosi and others would be in charge of writing the new amendments to our Constitution. That scares me,” said McCravy, a Greenwood Republican.
The proposal now goes to the House floor.
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