Is a Convention of the States to Amend the Constitution a Pipe Dream?
The drive to trigger a convention of the states in order to amend the Constitution has been gaining steam in recent years, driven by frustration and anger on the right at the federal government's overreach and out-of-control spending.
Under Article V of the Constitution, if two thirds of the states call for it, a convention will be convened. Any amendments that arise from the convention must be approved by 75% of the states.
But there are questions about how exactly such a convention would gather.
The particulars of such a convention, though, are not laid out. Do the states have to call for a convention on the same topic? Must they pass resolutions with similar or identical wording? The U.S. Supreme Court may have to decide whether the threshold of states has been reached and, ultimately, the parameters of a convention and the rules delegates would be governed by.
A bill introduced in the U.S. House last year would direct the National Archives to compile all applications for an Article V convention.
Some believe enough states have already passed Article V resolutions, pointing to votes over the years across the country on a variety of potential amendment topics. Others contend the highest possible current count of states is 28 - the number of states with existing resolutions on the most common convention topic, a balanced budget amendment. Others point to lower total counts based on states that have passed near-identical resolutions.
Regardless, proponents of a convention believe they have momentum on their side more than any other time in American history.
Every single step taken toward a constitutional convention will be challenged in court by the left. Any effort to bring specificity to our founding document will be fought tooth and nail in the courts. Any amendment that would emerge from a convention would be fought in every state.
In short, any success such a convention would achieve would be tied up in the courts for half a century.
The difficulty in changing the Constitution was built into the document. It's a feature, not a bug. The genius of checks and balances was to guard against rule by the mob. Passions raised by specific issues would, by the necessity of time, be cooled so that the convention would become a deliberative body.
Is that even possible in wired America? The founders deliberated in absolute secrecy. It was the only way the representatives could feel free to voice their opinions without fear of retribution.
Does anyone really believe a convention of the states today could meet out of the glare of the media?
Those familiar with the arguments in favor of a convention no doubt have counterarguments for every point made against it -- except one.
Be careful what you wish for. Once you convene a convention -- even if it's for the specific purpose of adding a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution -- there's no telling what will happen.
Recall that the original Constitutional Convention was convened in order to address problems associated with the Articles of Confederation. The representatives were under no mandate to write an entirely new founding document. But they did, and America is better for it.
But suppose such a convention today were to open the Constitution to other amendments besides one that forces government to balance a budget. There would be calls on both sides to say something about women's equality, civil rights, and other "social justice" issues. There might even be efforts to restrict the First and Second Amendments.
The entire process could get out of control and end up fundamentally altering the character of our government.
It's a long, laborious process but a balanced budget amendment would best be taken up by Congress and then sent to the states for ratification. The dangers inherent in calling for a convention of the states should be self-evident to anyone who pays attention to our politics today.