Kansas GOP lawmakers sue to overturn failure of constitutional convention resolutions
By Katie Bernard – January 3, 2024
The Kansas House of Representatives meet at the Capitol on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, in Topeka. NICK WAGNER firstname.lastname@example.org
Two Republican state lawmakers are suing to bring Kansas one step closer to calling a U.S. constitutional convention – a long-time goal of many conservatives.
Sen. Mike Thompson, a Shawnee Republican, and Rep. Mike Murphy, a Sylvia Republican, filed a federal lawsuit in December alleging the Kansas Legislature’s GOP leaders wrongly declared two resolutions calling a convention had failed last year.
The U.S. Constitution allows for a constitutional convention if the legislatures of two thirds of the states – currently 34 – call for one. Conservatives have long sought such a convention to deliver more power to the states. According to Convention of States, the primary organization working toward a convention, 19 states have passed resolutions calling for a convention.
A convention has long been seen as a long shot, with critics warning a gathering could open the door to legal chaos. While individual states often call for conventions limited to specific issues, concern exists the scope could quickly expand into other subjects.
The Kansas House and Senate held votes on the resolutions but they failed because the Kansas Constitution requires a two-thirds majority to call a convention. A resolution calling for fiscal restraints on the federal government earned 74 votes in the House and a resolution calling for limits on the federal government earned 22 votes in the Senate.
Thompson and Murphy’s lawsuit argues the state constitution’s two-thirds requirement flies in the face of the federal constitution.
“Neither state law nor state constitutions can enact processes or standards for the exercise of Article V authority in addition to or apart from those derived from federal law,” the lawsuit said, referring to the article of the U.S. Constitution that outlines procedure for calling a convention.
House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, and Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, are named as defendants in the suit because they declared the resolutions failed.
“While I support the Convention of States, I also swore an oath to uphold the Kansas Constitution,” Hawkins said in a statement. “There’s an interesting legal question here and that’s something the courts will have to sort out.”
Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat who opposes a convention of states, said such a convention would hold broad risks for protections in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The two-thirds majority requirement, Carmichael said, has long allowed legislative leadership to claim they support the concept without ever pushing to see it pass.
“That convention has the possibility to overturn a number of rights that we have, particularly under the Bill of Rights, and make some dramatic changes in the organization, if you will, even of our republic,” Carmichael said.
Kansas’ two-thirds requirement for the convention has previously been a point of contention. In 2021 Masterson told reporters he intended to declare the convention of states passed if it reached a simple majority. The move would have triggered a lawsuit but lawmakers ultimately voted to send the proposal back to committee rather than accept or reject it that year.
When lawmakers debated the policy last year, Masterson did not opt to declare it passed. But Thompson and Murphy’s lawsuit means the issue will now be litigated.
“The lawsuit is about resolving a longstanding question about whether the Kansas Constitution can require a higher threshold of votes to adopt measures envisioned by Article V of the United States Constitution, including the Convention of States,” Masterson spokesperson Mike Pirner said in a statement.
KATIE BERNARD (816)234-4167
Katie Bernard covers Kansas politics and government for the Kansas City Star. She joined the paper in 2019 and became the Topeka Statehouse correspondent in 2020. Katie was part of the team that won the Headliner award for political coverage in 2023.