Iowa is the 15th state to reject the proposed Article V Convention of States thus far this year. Going off the established process of constitutional change is too radical for most. They remain comfortable with both houses of Congress proposing one amendment at a time followed by its ratification by three fourths of the states.
But Article V does allow a second method should Congress refuse to make needed change. “On the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, [Congress] shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments.” This is thought to be necessary primarily because Congress will not authorize an amendment to force itself to balance its budget and failure to do so allows destructive unrestricted spending by both political parties. Congress has not proposed a constitutional change since the 27th Amendment in May 1992.
But instead of states using Article V to force an amendment to balance the budget activists from both the right and the left say, in effect, we have a number of other issues that also need amendment power. But this creates the problem of multiple amendments to consider simultaneously without sufficient venting of each.
Constitutionalists say lets continue to propose just one change at a time so that it gets a full review and we do not open the floodgates of unintended consequences for what we do not want. The 14th Amendment is criticized today because it allowed multiple issues in one amendment, which opened the door to the most vague interpretations and thus law never intended by its founders. Constitutionalists welcome a balanced budget amendment by itself but that is not now what Conventionalists are proposing.
Once the Convention of States is formed, and amendments to the constitution are proposed, these changes are ratified by state power alone — the federal government may propose but it is excluded from the process of enlarging or reducing its power. Ratification requires three-fourths of either state legislatures or state conventions (a process that opens participation to the public) “as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress.” Congress selects the mode presumably common for all states.
But a convention of states method was only tried at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. To make it open ended is risky. Whatever happens creates legal precedent for the future and thus the danger. Many see the convention process as returning to what the Founders did when they were commissioned to repair the then existing Constitution. Once together they chose to instead dump The Articles of Confederation creating a different constitution, what they had not been commissioned to do. Congress, after receiving their report, simply forwarded it to the states and in that act legitimized it.
Common knowledge that the existing constitution was not repairable, the Federalist Papers explaining the new constitution’s natural law and human nature base, and belief that God was assisting, made success possible. Today I cannot name 55 (the number signing the Constitution) persons in all of government, federal or state that I would trust to design a better Constitution than now exists.
Convention enthusiasts, mostly Republicans, believe that they can hold at bay the proposals of opposing parties or that Congress can somehow control the proposals and their specificity, but Congress has nothing to say once gathered, any more than it did in 1787. Even had Congress such power, enthusiasts have too much faith in Congress doing the right thing. The call for a Convention of States is based upon their long history of NOT following the Constitution as written. Were Congress to return to the enumerated powers of Article I, Section 8 there would exist no need for another convention.
Enthusiasts also have too much faith in states having management power over convention delegates before and during the proposal convention or delegate removal power should a delegate go rogue. But what if they all go rogue as in 1787? The states also have a long history of NOT following the Constitution as written. The Constitution itemizes the powers of Congress as noted above. All unlisted powers remain with the states as per Amendment 10 of the Bill of Rights which reads: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Were the states to uphold this one amendment they could force the federal government to uphold the Constitution ending the need for another convention.
Somehow convention enthusiasts believe that if they get delegates and office holders pledged by oath to uphold new amendments the changes will follow but all federal, state, county and city officials are already so pledged and such is ignored. Article IV, Section II reads: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution.” If these already violate their oaths on a regular basis what evidence exits that they will not violate the new oath? The call for a new Convention of States is based upon the fact that they dishonored their oath to uphold the Constitution.
No wonder Iowa and 14 sister states rejected this dangerous and unpredictable method of constitutional change.
Dr. Harold W. Pease is a syndicated columnist and an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and applying that knowledge to current events. He taught history and political science from this perspective for over 30 years at Taft College. Newspapers have permission to publish this column. To read more of his weekly articles, please visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org.