For those unfamiliar with Article V of the Constitution, and the second yet to be used method of amending the Constitution, via a convention of states, I invite you to refer to conventionofstates.com or my previous article on this subject. My reason for writing Part II is having written on this subject initially, I didn’t anticipate the degree to which many good, like-minded conservatives had a degree of apprehension toward utilizing this method of amendment. I truly believe in this cause, I hope to address some of those concerns in this article, and to respectfully explain why I have come to fully support an Article V convention of the states as the only solution as big as our current problems.
As stated, many good people have expressed more than a few apprehensions concerning the current attempt to utilize the yet to used convention method of Article V of the Constitution, not because they are for the Leviathan that has become the federal government, or because they are against states rights, but because of their reverencefor the Constitution, and a fear that such an amendment convention held by the states would forever alter the Constitution in a potentially negative way.
Though I’ve never believed such a convention would run-a-muck like some people fear, I have for example thought to myself in the past, “The Constitution is fine just the way it is. People just need to follow it.” Such thoughts are completely understandable, natural, logical. I have thought them myself. I in fact don’t want to fundamentally alter the Constitution one iota, unless you think the 27 other times the Constitution has been amended have somehow fundamentally altered it structure or purpose. I actually think the Constitution as written is perfectly fine. We agree. I in no way think it should fundamentally be changed. That’s not what amending the Constitution is ever about.
This effort is not about rejecting the Constitution as written. An Article V convention isn’t about admitting Constitutional imperfection. Quite to the contrary, its about using the Constitution as it was intended to be used. Its not a rejection of the Constitution. Its an embrace of the Constitution. The framers of the Constitution included this form of amendment in anticipation of one day having the sort of centralized, unanswerable federal government that we have today.
George Mason was the individual who advocated the convention clause be included in the Constitution, and for precisely that reason. Everyone present unanimously agreed with him, and it was so adopted. To utilize Article V is to agree with the framers of the Constitution as to the nature of government, and the occasional need to re-balance the power of the federal government. The only shame is that we haven’t seen fit to ever use that power. In other words, Article V was put in the Constitution for a very good reason, the purpose of which is not to fundamentally alter the Constitution. It was included to check federal power.
Its been claimed that Article V of the Constitution does not set out a specific process for a constitutional convention, this being the biggest threat that could eventually turn it into a rewriting the Constitution, or a convention run-a-muck…a runaway convention. Additionally, its been claimed by some that its not a convention for the purpose of offering amendments, but rather is a constitutional convention. To the latter claim first, I would admit that the word “convention” is a bit confusing and that Madison specifically, even though he agreed to include that word in the Article, thought at the time that it might be a bit confusing to use that word. Nevertheless, he, and everyone present, still agreed as to the need and purpose of using this method, as vaguely as it might be laid out in Article V.
Madison, like many people today, observed that there was no specific process laid out. Yet, despite those observations, again, they moved forward with passed included Article V. They did so because they knew it needed to be in the Constitution, and that it would one day likely have to be used, despite the specific form it may or may not take.
So, as to the form more specifically, couldn’t such a convention, once assembled, change its purpose or somehow abolish the Constitution as it presently exists? The simplest way to address that is simply to concede, for arguments sake at the very least, that sure, anything is possible. “Wait! He didn’t just admit….” Yes, I suppose its possible that a convention could be poorly conceived, could fail, or could offer amendments outside of the scope they were initially called for, and that the convention could be perverted. Thus is he nature of man. There are not guarantees in anything. The likelihood however is next to nil .
The thing is, and this is the crux of the issue, how can we have the “runaway convention” some good people fear, when 3/4 of the state legislatures have to agree to any amendments proposed at such a convention? Think about that for a minute. Why would the delegates at such a convention, delegates chosen by the state legislatures, contrive amendments to bring back to their legislatures that were against their dictate? And if they did, would 38 legislatures pass them? There are very few issues that could pass that bar, but term limits and a balanced budget amendment among those that could pass for starters.
The point is, even if the whole process was eventually set up so that it did turn into a runaway convention somehow, and 2/3 of the delegates offered up and agreed on amendments outside of the initial and intended scope of the convention, the key here is that then 3/4 of the state legislatures would have to agree after the fact. This being the case, and this was the case intentionally, structurally it simply is not possible for a runaway convention to happen the way people fear might happen.
Utilizing Article V is not some sort of attempt to fundamentally change the Constitution, was not set up to do so, and such a convention simply could not turn into a runaway convention as structured.
Perhaps however the most fundamental and pervasive general skepticism, beyond those already mentioned, is that if people are not following the Constitution as written, what good will it do if the Constitution is amended? Again, that’s a pretty fair point, and one I initially thought myself, but one I have come to ultimately and respectfully disagree with.
The question we first have to ask when pondering this question is who is it that isn’t following the Constitution in particular? The answer is its the courts, its the executive, and as relates to our crushing debt, its congress. In short, its now the whole of the federal government that is not following the Constitution. Because of that, over time, they have now grown to a point and secured their advances beyond a point where I think we can fight back using conventional and previously used means. Thus Article V. The who is important here, because Article V was established for a very specific reason, and is not simply just another way to amend the Constitution, the same as the other way, as if its in the Constitution for no reason. The fact is we wouldn’t be amending the Constitution like has been done before.
I think its a fair question to ask that if we’re going to sit idly by and claim that there is no point in amending the Constitution, because our government doesn’t follow it as written, why not just give up on passing any laws anymore? That’s a serious question I think we should think about for a second. If that is the case, and we are conceding government is not following its own laws, then why pass any laws anymore? Why not give up on self-government if that’s that case? Why do anything at all in government anymore if that’s really the case? Are we to sit on our laurels, and simply hope people see the light sometime soon, as to the proper function of the Constitution, and the proper role of the federal government, or do we the people respond forcefully and reassert our rights from the top down, rather than pretending we can reign in the federal government, which has become unanswerable to the states and the people?
Put even another way, if that were the case, and people in general, or the federal government specifically, are not following the Constitution, and it is the case, then for God’s sake, what do we have to lose?! Let’s say there were some runaway convention, which I don’t believe could happen for the reasons already given. If the argument is that people are not following the Constitution, and won’t follow any alteration, what would be the risk here if it were altered in a negative way…if that were true, and it were true that no one follows any laws at all anymore?
In response to the apprehension that the federal government isn’t following the Constitution as written, so that there would be little point in offering up additional amendments is this: amendments traditionally do actually work, despite the pessimism. Thinking that since the federal government isn’t following the Constitution, therefore, why would they follow any new amendments to the Constitution is an understandable notion to think, but history I think bears out another story if you think about it.
It took 100 years before this country really started to turn its back on the things like the 10th amendment and states rights. Even after the Civil War most people still believed in limited government in most cases. That didn’t change until the progressive era. Look at the 2nd Amendment. Its taken a few hundred year for that to start, start, to unravel. Is the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women’s suffrage still in place? I could go on and on. And so the point is this. Yes, over time, governments have a tendency to forget the real or initial meaning of a thing, of an amendment for example, and reinterpret it incorrectly. But it usually takes a long long time before they find sufficient reason to forsake the real meaning of a thing altogether. And when they do, good people need to rise up, again, and again, and again, to redefine it for them.
Over time governments always try to take freedom away, ignore constitutions, and ignore amendments to those constitutions. Its inevitable that that happens. I don’t think we should use that as an excuse to not actively govern and not do our part in putting a check on such tyrannical power when we have the means at our disposal because, “oh, well, they’ll just ignore us if we try.” I think frankly that’s the attitude the statists are hoping for. We know the nature of man. The framers knew the nature of man. And they knew that what is happening now would eventually happen. How and if we’ll respond is the only question yet to be answered.
The utilization of an Article V convention of states is no nearly as radical an idea as many people have come to believe it is. This is a process where as of 1993 over 400 applications have been filed to this end, at various times and various places and for various reasons. Twice such a convention was only one or two states away from becoming reality. The attempt at such a convention is far from unprecedented.
This is a process, unbeknownst to most people, which though not yet utilized, has been used to force the passage of numerous amendments in congress, 21st, 22nd, and 25th among them, via simply the threat of such a convention. It would seem that the federal government doesn’t want such a convention to take place.
Its a process in the late 70’s and early 80’s that came within two states of becoming reality for the purpose of instituting a balanced budget amendment, and who reading this article thinks that if the state legislatures across this country thought a convention needed to be called at that time regarding our debt, think it is any less necessary today? In fact we have much more reason today by far then they did over 30 years ago. Much more reason.
I think we need to remind congress and this country as a whole, the grassroots patriots of this country, that states rights isn’t some outmoded or non-existent novelty. Its time we take back our rightful power, our rightful place, our rightful freedoms, from the federal government, and in a manner the authors of the Constitution laid out for us in Article V.
The biggest thing we should fear in my opinion at this point in our history is inaction. I for one fear if we don’t reassert such rights right now, enough people in the country will eventually become convinced they don’t exist as stated in the Constitution, and they’ll simply never be exerted. I think we should show such people those sovereign rights do exist, and bring back the balance of power the Constitution prescribed, via the means prescribed in the Constitution. Article V was put there for a reason. Let’s use it.