Perspective - September 2015

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Constitution expert Trent England on the pros and cons of an Article V convention Holding a national convention to propose constitutional amendments is either the only solution to rebalance our political system or a sure path to its final destruction. At least, those are the two points of view most commonly heard in the current debate over using “Article V”—really just one clause therein—in an attempt to change the U.S. Constitution. What do people mean when they say “Article V”? In the current debate, “Article V” has become shorthand for just 22 of the 143 words in that constitutional provision. Here is Article V in full: 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


PERSPECTIVE • September 2015

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. Today, the focus is on state legislatures forcing Congress to call a convention for proposing amendments. In other words, many people talking about “Article V” mean just this: “The Congress, ... on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments....” Has there ever been a convention for proposing constitutional amendments? No. All 27 of the amendments to the Constitution were originally proposed by Congress. While there have been countless attempts within one or more states to call an amendments convention, there has never actually been such a convention. Why call a convention? Those who want to change the Constitution have many, and sometimes conflicting, arguments and objectives. On the political left, “Move to Amend” is a grassroots campaign that wants to eliminate constitutional protections that limit government regulation of political activities. On the right are efforts to achieve several

different versions of a balanced budget amendment, to either define marriage in the Constitution or require that the issue be left to the states, and simply to consider any proposal that might restrain federal power. This latter effort, led by a group called “Convention of States,” has the support of conservative leaders like radio host Mark Levin, libertarian law professor Randy Barnett, and Oklahoma’s former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn. They argue their plan is “the only constitutionally effective means available to do what is essential for our nation—restoring a robust federalism with genuine checks on the power of the federal

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