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Article V convention: savior or disaster?

Posted by Richard on January 10, 2016

Article V of the Constitution provides for two means of amending the Constitution: Congress can propose amendments (two-thirds of each house concurring), the process with which we’re all familiar, or a convention of the states can propose amendments (two-thirds of the states concurring). In both cases, the approved amendments must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures or by conventions in three-fourths of the states.

The convention of states idea has been kicking around for some time among people concerned about the inability to constrain an out-of-control, overreaching federal government. It seems to have picked up steam after the 2013 publication of Mark Levin’s The Liberty Amendments. A number of different groups are working toward some kind of Article V convention; some want to limit it to a single amendment (e.g., balanced budget or term limits), while others, like Levin, want multiple amendments around a single subject (limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government). Texas Governor Greg Abbott made news this past week by jumping aboard. His proposal seems at first glance to mirror Levin’s proposals and the Convention of States Project (which Levin has endorsed).

One of the most influential supporters is Rob Natelson, a senior fellow at Denver’s wonderful Independence Institute, which hosts the Article V Information Center, an invaluable resource on the subject.

For an overview of the key players and an assessment of the movement as of November 2015, see David Guldenschuh’s Heartland Institute policy brief (PDF, 40 pages).

The Article V idea has drawn opposition from a number of people and groups  on the right who claim that Congress would have too much power to define the rules and control the process, and that there would be no way to limit the scope of such a convention to what the proponents want. They worry that the Second Amendment could be rewritten and other grievous harm to what’s left of our freedoms could be done. Chief among them are Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum and the John Birch Society.

Also opposed is Colorado’s Dudley Brown, who is rallying opposition through his two gun-rights organizations, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO) and the National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR). (Interestingly, the Guldenschuh PDF I linked to above is on the NAGR website, even though Guldenschuh is an Article V proponent.)

One leftist group is pushing for an Article V convention specifically to prohibit corporate campaign contributions, overturning Citizens United. But contrary to the claims of some Article V opponents, George Soros is not supporting the Article V movement, and in fact, Soros-funded groups (including Common Cause) have denounced the idea.

The Convention of States website has a ton of information countering the critics and their concerns about a “runaway convention,” etc., which I’ve only begun to explore.

Based on what I know now, I’m cautiously inclined to support an Article V convention of the states, either for a single amendment (as a test of the process) or for a carefully crafted single subject as proposed by the Convention of States Project. The arguments for it seem more persuasive than the arguments against it. And I’m much more inclined to believe the folks at the Independence Institute than Schlafly and the Birchers. How about you?

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4 Responses to “Article V convention: savior or disaster?”

  1. David Aitken said

    It is my understanding that, in an Article V convention, each state has 1 vote. Since it takes 34 (50 * 2/3) states to call a convention, that means you need 18 (34 * 1/2) votes to pass anything. Anything that does pass needs to be ratified by 38 states (50 * 3/4). Those are fairly high hurdles, and given the current distribution of power among the states, at this time it may not be too risky. However, that assessment assumes that the mix of delegates to the convention is at least somewhat conservative/libertarian and that a majority of the delegates either support, or have instructions to support, the amendments likely to be considered. How likely is it that a state that supports an Article V convention would send a delegate that opposes the amendments to be considered? But I could be wrong.

  2. Jan said

    What could possibly go wrong???

  3. Rick Shultz said

    I am COMPLETELY against an Article V convention for the simple reason that the crazy, anti-gun zealots will see it as a perfect opportunity to try to destroy our 2nd amendment rights. No matter what else might be accomplished that might be good, THAT would be a catastrophe of the highest order, and knowing those liberal bast$%ds the way I do I am CERTAIN they would try it.

    • David G. said

      To think that you could get a majority of delegates from 26 states to pass a a proposed amendment harming the 2d Amendment, and then get 38 states to ratify that amendment is sheer fantasy. The 2d Amendment is far more at risk based on the next appointee to the Supreme Court. Should the Supreme Court go rogue as a liberal court has done in the past, then Article V might be the country’s only savior.

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