Mike Kueber's Blog

March 15, 2012

Do we need an Article V constitutional convention?

My conservative friend recently sent me a Townhall news article reporting that there is a political movement afoot to have a constitutional convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution.    Although the U.S. Constitution provides for amendments to be initiated either by two-thirds of Congress or by two-thirds of the States (34), all previous proposed amendments have come from Congress.  Having an amendment come from the states is unchartered territory.  Regardless of how an amendment is initiated, it is enacted only when three-fourths of the states (38) ratify the amendment.

According to the Townhall article, the Article V movement is attempting to enact a constitutional amendment called The National Debt Relief Amendment (see below), which provides that “an increase in the federal debt requires approval from a majority of the legislatures of the separate States.”  The proposed amendment specifically provides that “the convention to shall be entirely focused upon and exclusively limited to the subject matter of proposing for ratification an amendment to the Constitution providing that an increase in the federal debt requires approval from a majority of the legislatures of the separate States.

Some opponents of a constitutional convention have expressed concern that it might turn into a “runaway” convention that goes beyond its initial charge and make additional, unscripted changes.  But proponents of the convention have constructed elaborate arguments to alleviate that concern.  Furthermore, a “runaway” convention doesn’t make sense to me because ratification requires three-fourths of the states to agree, and getting three-fourths of the state to agree on a dumb idea is not realistic.

I understand those who support the amendment because the federal government has shown an inability to balance its budget, and this new process would be akin to a CEO getting the Board of Directors to sign off on major decisions – i.e., increasing the nation’s debt ceiling.  But I am more concerned with creating a situation where government is even more dysfunctional than it is now.  The state of California is instructive of what happens when a government tries to establish too many checks & balances to enforce fiscal balances.  Our federal government may be dysfunctional, but it’s not as bad as California’s government.   

I am optimistic that the federal government is learning to be fiscally responsible, primarily because the voters are finally insisting on it.  Ultimately, the Constitution shouldn’t be expected to save us from ourselves. 

Incidentally, a recent op-ed piece in the NY Times by a leading jurist – J. Harvie Wilkinson III – warned that Americans are expecting too much from the Supreme Court – i.e., conservatives expect it to emasculate the federal government by shutting down an expansive program (ObamaCare), while liberals expect it to create unenumerated personal rights:

  • … creating constitutional rights without foundation frays the community fabric and, with it, the very notion that the majority can enact into law some expression of shared values that make ours a society whose whole is more than the sum of its parts. In pushing a constitutional vision of autonomous individuals divested of location in larger social settings, liberals risk weakening the communal values and institutions that best afford our most disadvantaged the chance for a good life.  At a time of dismay over democratic dysfunction, the temptation to ask courts to supplant self-governance runs high. And yet when I look past the present debacle, and think of where democracy has brought this country, I would not lose faith.

Well said, J. Harvie.  We could use a justice like you on the Supreme Court.

 

The National Debt Relief Amendment

[CONCURRENT/JOINT] HOUSE-SENATE RESOLUTION APPLYING FOR

AN ARTICLE V AMENDMENTS CONVENTION

***

Whereas, Article V of the Constitution of the United States provides authority for a Convention to be called by the Congress of the United States for the purpose of proposing amendments to the Constitution upon application of two-thirds of the Legislatures of the several states (“amendments convention”), and,

Whereas, the Legislature of the State of ____________ favors the proposal and ratification of an amendment to said Constitution which shall provide that an increase in the federal debt requires approval from a majority of the legislatures of the separate States.

Therefore, be it resolved:

Section 1. That, as provided for in Article V of the Constitution of the United States, the Legislature of the State of __________ herewith respectfully applies for an amendments convention to be called for the purpose of proposing an amendment which shall provide that an increase in the federal debt requires approval from a majority of the legislatures of the separate States.

Section 2. That the amendments convention contemplated by this application shall be entirely focused upon and exclusively limited to the subject matter of proposing for ratification an amendment to the Constitution providing that an increase in the federal debt requires approval from a majority of the legislatures of the separate States.

Section 3. This application constitutes a continuing application in accordance with Article V of the Constitution of the United States until at least two-thirds of the legislatures of the several states have made application for an equivalently limited amendments convention.

Section 4. Be it further resolved that a certified copy of this application be dispatched by the secretary of state (or other responsible constitutional officer), to the President of the United States Senate, to the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, to each member of the applicant’s delegation to the United States Congress, and to the presiding officers of each house of the several state legislatures, requesting their cooperation in applying for the amendments convention limited to the subject matter contemplated by this application.

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