By John Stoeffler
Knowing human nature as they obviously did the Founders provided for two ways to amend the Constitution. Under the provisions of Article V Congress could propose amendments which if ratified by three-fourths of the states would be come part of the Constitution. The second method for amending the Constitution was included by the Founders to insure states had a way to address and correct abuses by Washington through a convention of the states when, as Michigan Law Professor Kauper put it, “they are deeply troubled.”
There is currently a movement to call a Constitutional Convention to address what many perceive as overreach and abuse of the States by the Federal Government on a myriad of issues. This has run into a buzz saw of opposition, mainly by those who call themselves “Conservatives.”
The principle argument used for years by those opposed to a Constitutional Convention is that such a convention would not be limited and could exceed the specific purpose or “call” of the convention by introducing other amendments not germane to the call. But the conclusion of a 1987 report to then Attorney General Edwin Meese titled Limited Constitutional Conventions under Article V of the United States Constitution was that “Article V does permit a limited convention.” The report offered three arguments in support of this conclusion.
First, “Since Congress may limit its attention to single issues…the states also have the constitutional authority to limit a convention to a single issue.”
Second, “The consensus about the need for constitutional change is a prerequisite to initiating the amendment process.”
Third, “History and the practice of both the states and the Congress show a common understanding that the Constitution can be amended issue by issue.”
But what those who fear what they characterize as a potential “runaway convention” forget or ignore is that there is a lengthy process required to ratify any proposed amendment(s).
First of all, there must be a consensus by two-thirds (34) of the states on the subject of the new amendment to be proposed. Each state must, in the words of Article V, submit an “Application” to congress calling for a convention for the specific purpose of “proposing Amendments” the subject of which being clearly spelled out in each state’s Application.
Once this is achieved Congress would send to the states the language of the amendment(s) called for by the states. Each state would then call for a convention to be held to vote on the proposed amendment(s). It is at this point in the process where those who fear a runaway convention assert that the U.S. Constitution could be rewritten. But it is here that their argument falls apart.
First, the call for a convention is based on the subject submitted in the applications of thirty-four states. For any vote of convention delegates to go beyond the subject of the call would render their vote(s) null and void.
Secondly, since ratification of any amendments to the Constitution by conventions in the various states requires a consensus of three fourths (38) of the states it defies all logic to believe that thirty-eight states would ignore the subject of the original Applications made by thirty-four states and agree to rewrite the United States Constitution.
Finally, the last and only time the convention method was used was to add the 21st Amendment to the Constitution. The 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment, also known as the prohibition amendment. No attempt was made then to rewrite the Constitution – so why now?
In decrying calls for a Constitutional Convention which is authorized under Article V of the United States Constitution, Eagle Forum, the John Birch Society, and the Constitution Party are in point of fact empowering a strong central government at the expense of the states. This is strange considering how often these conservative groups point to the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment when criticizing Washington’s assault on “states’ rights.”
In their wisdom the Founders included in Article V the power of the states to correct abuses by the federal government should they deem it necessary. Those who recognize the purpose of and necessity for calling a federal constitutional convention when warranted should be applauded and supported for their efforts.