More Evidence That Warren Burger Was Defending Roe v. Wade When He Opposed A Convention of States

Rob as Candidate for Governor of Montana in 2000

Rob as Candidate for Governor of Montana in 2000

More evidence has turned up that the late Chief Justice Warren Burger was defending his Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade when he wrote three letters opposing the Article V convention process.

Burger’s letters frequently are cited as authority by opponents of a “convention of states.” However, in an earlier posting I noted that the letters show little knowledge of the subject, and that Burger apparently had never heard an Article V case or published anything on the topic. I explained that the likely source of Berger’s views was his friend William Swindler, a liberal law professor who passionately attacked the convention process because he feared the states might use it to propose one or more conservative amendments.

It now it turns out that Burger had further reason to oppose a convention of states. In 1973, he was one of seven justices who signed onto Roe v Wade, which legalized abortion-on-demand nationwide and upended long-standing laws in all 50 states.

There was widespread public outrage against the decision. Even many pro-choice citizens believed that abortion should be a state rather than a federal issue, and legal scholars (including many who agreed with the result) decried the reasoning of the case as sloppy. As a result, people began to cast around for a remedy.

Many fixed on the constitutional amendment process as such a remedy. Both the 11th and 14th amendments had been passed wholly or partly to reverse overreaching Supreme Court decisions, and in 1971, it had happened again, with the 26th amendment’s reversal of the Court’s confused decision in Oregon v. Mitchell (1970).

Not surprisingly, therefore, in 1974 the Indiana legislature passed an Article V application for a convention to propose an amendment to overrule Roe. Missouri joined the following year, and Louisiana in 1976. The campaign picked up steam, and by the time Burger wrote the first of his three letters, 19 of the necessary 34 states had adopted applications to overrule Roe in various ways. So you can understand why the Chief Justice was nervous.

But here’s the ultimate irony: During the 1990s, the leadership of a few deeply conservative groups launched a campaign to rescind all Article V applications. They exhorted their grassroots members to lobby state legislatures, and in some cases they did win rescission.

You have to wonder, though: Did the leadership of those groups ever tell their members that by campaigning to rescind applications, they were campaigning to preserve Roe v. Wade? Or that they were thereby destroying any real hope of Roe being overturned?

What would their members have said if they’d known?