Ed Brown

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On February 3, 2015
Last modified:February 4, 2015


The Constitutional Convention of 1787 gave us the U.S. Constitution. The same must be successfully called to amend that constitution if Congress refuses to do so.

A Constitutional Convention, also called an Article V Convention or Amendments Convention, was designed, as President Ronald Reagan so eloquently put it, as a safety valve – for when Congress fails to respond to popular will. It provides that two-thirds of the states may demand a convention, which in turn would send amendments to the states for ratification.

There are currently 24 states calling for a U.S. constitutional convention for a balanced-budget amendment. Thirty-four states are needed to call a “con-con” so eight-to-10 additional states, including Montana, are being pushed to join.

According to The Convention of States (COS) Project the federal government has overreached its constitutionally established boundaries and now has its hands in almost every area of our lives and if something isn’t done our children and grandchildren will inherit a bankrupt nation run by an unaccountable bureaucracy.

The project was founded by Virginia-based Citizens for Self-Governance for the purpose of stopping the runaway power of the federal government which, according to the COS website, is “overspending, seizing power from the states and taking liberty from the people.”

Article V of the United States Constitution allows for a Convention of States to restrict the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, effectively returning the citizens’ rightful power over the ruling élite.

Article V, U.S. Constitution:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.

COS claims that by working together, state legislators and American citizens can restore the checks and balances on federal power that were put in place by the Founders to protect our liberty from the abuses of Washington DC.

Sarah Palin has joined a growing movement calling for a Convention of States to draw up amendments limiting the power of the federal government. In a new Facebook post Palin praised the effort:

“This idea is really the last recourse of the citizens to rein in D.C. and restore our country to a Constitutionally limited federal government. Three states have already successfully passed legislation calling for a convention of the states, and right now it’s Virginia’s turn. The beauty of this process is that neither the President nor Congress has the authority to stop it. It is truly in the hands of We the People.”

The COS strategy is to call a convention for a particular subject rather than a particular amendment. The goal is to build a political operation in a minimum of 40 states, getting 100 people to volunteer in at least 75% of the state’s legislative districts.

A convention of states needs to be called to ensure that we are able to debate and impose a complete package of restraints on the misuse of power by all branches of the federal government.

What Sorts of Amendments Could be Passed?

The following are examples of amendment topics that could be discussed at a convention of states:

  • A balanced budget amendment
  • A redefinition of the General Welfare Clause (the original view was the federal government could not spend money on any topic within the jurisdiction of the states)
  • A redefinition of the Commerce Clause (the original view was that Congress was granted a narrow and exclusive power to regulate shipments across state lines–not all the economic activity of the nation)
  • A prohibition of using international treaties and law to govern the domestic law of the United States
  • A limitation on using Executive Orders and federal regulations to enact laws (since Congress is supposed to be the exclusive agency to enact laws)
  • Imposing term limits on Congress and the Supreme Court
  • Placing an upper limit on federal taxation
  • Requiring the sunset of all existing federal taxes and a super-majority vote to replace them with new, fairer taxes

These are merely examples of what would be up for discussion. The convention of states would determine which ideas deserve serious consideration, and it will take a majority of votes from the states to formally propose any amendments.

The Founders gave us a legitimate path to save our liberty by using our state governments to impose binding restraints on the federal government. We must use the power granted to the states in the Constitution.

What’s the difference in a Convention of States and a Constitutional Convention?

Research into convention of states(COS) as opposed to constitutional convention(con-con) returned mixed results. All opponents(and many proponents) of “convention” typically use the two terms interchangeably but the COS adamantly insistsA constitutional convention would be dangerous and could very well result in disaster,” and says there are major differences in COS and CON-CON:

A Convention of States is simply one of the two methods in Article 5 of our Constitution for proposing and ratifying amendments. This is not the sort of convention that has the power to propose a new Constitution or to change the Constitution. The only thing an Article 5 convention can do is to propose an idea for how to fix a broken system — a system that has become corrupted by a Congress that can’t function.

A Convention of States only has the authority to propose amendments. It cannot change the American system of government. By itself, it cannot even change the Constitution. Clearly, calling an Article V Convention of States a “constitutional convention” is a very poor choice of words.

What Could Go Wrong?

No matter which term you prefer, both are supported by many conservatives but some are convinced support can also be found in the ranks of progressives and left-minded individuals, including the likes of George Soros. According to The New American’s Joe Wolverton, II, J.D. – in his article titled Socialists and Soros Fight for Article V Convention dated January 14th 2014 – the two terms are basically interchangeable and because of that he proposes that many conservatives are unknowingly fighting among the ranks of “numerous extremely radical, progressive, and socialist organizations that otherwise would have little in common with the conservatives fighting on the same side.

“That’s right. George Soros — the financier of global fascism —  is pumping millions of dollars into the same Article V campaign that is being promoted by Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and other popular conservative spokesmen,” Wolverton continued.

What the underlying “disaster” previously eluded to on the COS website and detailed by Wolverton’s article is fear of a “runaway convention,” in which liberal interest groups, or any special interest groups for that matter, seize control.

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 was a runaway convention which was intended to be a “limited” convention. It was called “to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government [the Articles of Confederation] adequate to the exigencies of the Union.” Of course, the Convention of 1787 exceeded this purpose by throwing out the Articles altogether and writing an entirely new Constitution – which is still the law of the land.  Opponents of COS/CON-CON fear the same thing could happen – but this time it could “runaway” in the wrong direction:

Source: What is known is that calling a constitutional convention would be very risky. It would, in fact, be gambling with the Constitution. This is true not only because of the nature of conventions — which may go off in unpredictable directions when called — but also because not everyone who supports a constitutional convention supports the same goals. Make no mistake: There would be plenty of wolves howling outside the doors of a constitutional convention, and, more importantly, there would be packs of them inside the convention, as well. A second constitutional convention could also run away, though this time the result could be harmful or even disastrous.

Some opponents also claim Congress would exercise total authority over the convention and delegates might be able to alter the rules of ratification of the changes.

However, Bill Fruth, an economist from Florida and national coordinator for the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, said Congress has the authority only to set the “time and place” of the convention, and that each state would choose how many delegates should be sent, and who they are.

Montana Rep. Matthew Monforton, R-Bozeman, the sponsor of House Joint Resolution 4, which would put Montana on record as calling for a convention to add the balanced-budget amendment, also added that convention delegates cannot change the ratification rules in the current Constitution: “It’s inherently illogical,” he said. “It’s a legal theory that has not been accepted by anyone outside of the John Birch Society. … This is not a legal theory, it’s a conspiracy theory.”

The John Birch Society referred to by Monforton is a conservative, anti-communist, limited government group, with many members who oppose COS/CON-CON and identify themselves as conservatives. In a post titled A Fairy Tale That Could Destroy Our Nation dated January 16 2015, author Larry Greenley lays out JBS’ 3 main arguments against convention:

  1. The Constitution Is Not the Problem
  2. All Article V Conventions Would Have the Inherent Power to Be Runaway Conventions
  3.  An Article V Convention Would Enable Powerful Special Interests to Revise the Constitution in Their Favor

As for Ronald Reagan, he was very much a proponent of the idea of constitutional convention – although his critics claimed he used the “convention threat” as a way to push his own “pet amendments.” On August 18, 1987 the New York Times published an article titled “A Convention That’s Uncalled For,”(intriguing article, written 28 years ago during Reagan’s presidency) lecturing Reagan, saying “a convention call is fraught with the danger of runaway revision.

The author remembered Reagan hounding Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment or ”the call for a constitutional convention will grow louder,” Reagan said. “The prospect for a constitutional convention is only two states away from approval.”

Reagan was correct. Indeed, 32 of the 34 needed states had applied and had applications on file – but the majority of them, at that time, were more than 7 years old which – as the NYT author noted, was “hardly the expression of current sentiment that congress must heed. There simply is not anything like a national convention call.”

Even though the Article V Convention process has never been used to amend the Constitution, the number of states applying for a convention has nearly reached the required threshold several times. Congress has proposed amendments to the Constitution on several occasions, at least in part, because of the threat of an Article V Convention. Rather than risk such a convention taking control of the amendment process away from it, Congress acted preemptively to propose the amendments instead. At least four amendments (the Seventeenth, Twenty-First, Twenty-Second, and Twenty-Fifth Amendments) have been identified as being proposed by Congress at least partly in response to the threat of an Article V convention.

Every state except Hawaii has applied for an Article V Convention at one time or another. The majority of such applications were made in the 20th century. While there is no official count of the number of applications, one private count puts the total number of applications at over 700.

In 2014 the magic number of 34 was in fact reached, but several of the states being counted long ago rescinded their calls for a convention and other states made their requests in differing forms, with some calling to confine such a convention to specific amendments, resulting in chaos, confusion and lack of clear guidance.

In light of all that, one thing becomes obvious regarding conventions: a majority of public sentiment must be unified and sweeping, in a timely manner – to see a Convention of States and Constitutional Convention take place. If it takes too long to get to the magic number of 34  the lag will be seen as a lack of mandate by ‘we the people’ – the outdated applications will be deemed of lesser value and the process won’t be successfully fulfilled.

If you’re a supporter of a convention – the time is now, as the window on the current federal administration, which is racking up huge deficits on a record setting basis, is fading quickly. To sign a Convention of States petition and/or to get involved on your state level, visit the Constitution of States website.