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A Convention of States

The purpose of a Convention of States is to consider amendments to the U.S. Constitution pursuant to Article V.  Our goal is to enable a convention to be called that will be a glorious celebration of the strength of our constitutional republic.  It will encourage the best thinking of the nation to coalesce in a national conference to resolve our most pressing problems of government.  Every honest voice for reform would be heard and respected, with the best ideas selected for submission to the states for possible ratification. 

The Route to Reform

Today our federal government is gridlocked, dysfunctional, and in desperate need of repair.  People all over the country are frustrated with the constant bickering in Congress and the failure to pass meaningful legislation, but storming the capital with pitchforks won’t accomplish the changes required to fix the problem.  What’s needed is the American people taking action and calling for a convention of states to propose amendments under Article V of the Constitution.  And we can’t let fear-peddling opponents or pedantic scholasticism, regardless of its good intentions, hinder our efforts to achieve constructive, meaningful reform.  The voice of the people, calling for a convention of states to propose amendments under Article V of the Constitution, must be respected and honored.  If we fail to act, we may be remembered as the generation that presided over the death of the American Experiment.  

In Article V, the writers of the Constitution gave us two ways to amend the Constitution in order to implement government reforms:

  • The action may be initiated in Congress by a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate

  • The action can be started by the states if two-thirds of them (34) agree to call a Convention to consider reforms

 

In either case, a proposed amendment must be subsequently ratified by three-quarters of the states (38) to become law.  This high bar for ratification ensures that the American public broadly supports the change, which is the mark of a strong, vibrant democracy.

It is obvious that the most direct route for reform is through Congress; the state option was provided to ensure that the People have a way to redress their grievances if Congress is unwilling or unable to act.  But because of changes that have occurred in the workings of Congress in recent years, it appears that the congressional option is not viable today and reformers must work through the state legislatures.  The occasional bill for reform that is introduced in Congress inevitably fails because the people that have power don’t want to lose it; in other words the system is self-perpetuating.  As a consequence of these dynamics, the state approach has been adopted by virtually all of the citizen reform groups.

Historically, we have never needed to resort to a Convention to accomplish desired reforms.  Whenever Congress saw that the mood of the country favored a reform, they jumped to the head of the parade and initiated the amendment action.  But the evidence does not indicate that Congress will do so in today’s political climate.

Opponents of a Convention

There is resistance to calling a Convention from some on the political left (who fear a partisan coup by the right) and two small but vocal groups on the far right (the Eagle Forum and John Birch Society).  The position taken by these two conservative groups goes back 50 years, when the late Phyllis Schafly, a powerful voice for the political right, proclaimed that a Convention could seriously damage or even destroy the republic.  Schafly was so revered that Eagle Forum and JBS groups mindlessly follow her lead to this day.  However, their arguments opposing a Convention are singularly unconvincing.

What the opponents of a convention are actually implying in their message is, that they do not believe the American people are capable of self-government with our democratic republic.  We take strong objection to this line of thought, pointing out that the nation has managed our affairs successfully for 230 years!  Furthermore, advocates have already done considerable planning for a Convention to ensure that it will be conducted in an orderly and lawful manner.

Academic Influence

Constitutional scholars participate in the dialog on a Convention, and in particular they debate two issues:

  • The validity of the archived state applications to call a Convention.

  • The agenda of a Convention.

 

On the former, there is agreement that the previously filed applications are generally valid, but there is some difference of opinion on the interpretation of the individual state applications. If these old applications are to be utilized, it would be prudent to ask the state to reaffirm their desire to convene an open (plenary) Convention.

On the second issue, there is a sharp difference of opinion on the permissible agenda of a Convention.  One view is that the agenda must be determined and specified in all 34 state applications supporting the call; the other view is that by its nature a Convention has unlimited power to consider proposed amendments and its inherent power cannot be circumscribed by a precedent agenda.  In the Act 2 literature, these issues are explained in some detail: the first will be solved by calling on a state to refresh its application, and the merits of the second are fully considered and the open (plenary) Convention emerges as the obvious choice rather than the limited-agenda approach.

Author: Frank Keeney

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A Convention of States

Every honest voice for reform should be heard and respected, with the best ideas selected for submission to the states for possible ratification. 

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