Article V   2 comments

Many people do not realize how close we are to an Article V convention of the states. Article V of the US. Constitution allows for 2/3s of state legislatures to petition Congress for a convention. Thirty-two states have asked for such a convention over the issue of a balanced budget amendment. Two more states and the threshold has been reached. (Since I wrote this, another state has submitted an application on the same issue. Usually, by now, Congress would have acted, but instead it is dithering and suggesting that some of these applications may no longer be valid because it’s been a few years since they were submitted).

 We’ve never had such a convention, not since the one that tossed out the Articles of Confederation and replaced them with the US Constitution. There are a lot of people who are terrified of such a circumstance. They’re right to be circumspect, given that history. Article V puts no limits on the topics, so “anything goes” is a possibility. On the other hand ….

We are at a point in our history where the ballot box no longer works. It especially doesn’t work if you’re a conservative because neither of the two major parties really represents us. Ideas like the balanced budget amendment or term limits for Congress cannot make it through the current Congressional system, so we the people become increasingly frustrated. We vote for meaningful change, but we get the same reshuffling of partisan professional politicians that has been going on for decades. Many of us know it should be different, but peaceful solutions don’t appear to work. So, increasingly, people are starting to discuss revolution.

I’ve just finished going through the Declaration of Independence, drawing parallels between the patriot complaints about King George and our current situation. This is not about President Obama. Yes, I think he’s been a dismal failure as a president. He took a country mired in debt and dug the hole twice as deep. He’s racially divisive, dismissive of anyone who doesn’t agree with him, and he’s expanded the surveillance state beyond even George W. Bush. But, ultimately, he is not the problem. The whole government structure as existing in the 21st century is the problem. He’s just the current face-man for the dictatorship. When he exits stage-left, he’ll be replaced by another.

The problem is that the United States of America was founded upon the simple, radical idea of self-governance, but we’re at the wrong end of a century of liberty restrictions. It’s not the foundation of the country that is the problem, but the superstructure that has been added to it that is threatening to bring it all down. The Constitution and the first 10 or 11 amendments are fine, but slip-shod, short-sighted, and ill-conceived latter editions have expanded government power and circumscribed citizen liberty.

When the ballot box no longer works, the alternative is usually the bullet-box. Fortunately, we have alternatives. I’m just suggesting one for now.

Currently, 32 (33) states are calling upon Congress, pursuant to Article V of the Constitution, to send a balanced budget amendment to the states for ratification. A similar attempt in the 1990s revolved around term-limits. It didn’t make the threshold and Congress has not voted for an amendment to limit itself even slightly in the 15 years since. Wow, are we surprised?

The merits of terms limits or balanced budgets or discontinuing the federal income tax aside, constitutional conventions are scary. The last time a con-con was threatened, it was the early 20th century and it resulted in the Progressive Era amendments being passed – direct election of senators, the income tax, and prohibition of alcohol. One was so bad it’s already been repealed and the other two …. These amendments were passed by Congress to avoid a con-con. Enough states had already petitioned on the subject of direct election that the only way to avoid it was to pass the 17th amendment. Congress put out the idea that a con-con would be fraught with peril because it would essentially set aside the Constitution and operate by rules set by the delegates.

It’s not true! The Constitution does NOT provide for a Constitutional Convention such as was held in 1787. It provides for a “Convention for proposing Amendments” to the Constitution. That is NOT a trivial difference. Yes, such a convention would make its own rules and Article V does not provide limits on the topics. There is no part of the Constitution, including the amendment provisions themselves, that a convention might not try to amend. Congress and state legislatures could not limit the agenda. However, a convention may only “propose” amendments. No proposal becomes constitutional law until it is ratified by the states.

There is a great deal of difference between a free-standing “Constitutional Convention”—authorized to write even its own rules of ratification—and a convention for proposing amendments to an existing constitution that already prescribes how any such amendments are to be ratified. In no way does Article V authorize the former. Any proposals to amend the existing Constitution that proceed by either of the methods prescribed in Article V must be ratified by the procedures prescribed there. Even a proposal to change the ratification procedure itself must be ratified by the existing ratification procedure.

It’s no accident that in 230-odd years there have only been 27 amendments ratified for ratification must be by the concurrence of “the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof.” Given the unlikelihood of the latter method, the numbers alone tell the story. It takes majorities in 75 of the 99 state legislative bodies in America to ratify any change in the Constitution.  Only 13 such bodies to block any change. You do the math!

Are there not 13 bodies in the states united that would rise to block all but the most popular of proposals? A generation ago, not even the Equal Rights Amendment—which enjoyed wide support—was able to make it through the ratification process.

Article V was put in the Constitution to be used, but not for light and transient reasons. By overwhelming majorities, averaging 75%, Americans of every creed and color have come to understand that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that, under modern conditions, has resulted in our being ruled year in and year out by a class of professional politicians and bureaucrats. Why don’t we just call them the Ruling Class. Oh, yeah, I have already!

The situation is neither healthy nor right in a limited, constitutional republic. Fortunately, the Framers provided a way to do something about it, a way to make fundamental change while ensuring that our fundamental principles remain in place.

Yeah, there are risks. Life entails risk. Usually, fixing something that’s broken holds risk, but fixing it also holds rewards.

2 responses to “Article V

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  1. Thanks for sharing. I’ve wondered why the state governments weren’t considering this action. Now I see that they have been and it just hasn’t been reported by the press . . . nah, really?


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