Article V Convention: Not Worth an Even Break

WC FieldsCertain ideas so defy logic that it is difficult to determine whether proponents aim to make suckers out of the unsuspecting or are being made suckers themselves. Such is the case with the currently proposed Article V Convention, under which states would gather to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  Proponents either intentionally or credulously are placing the very nature of our Republic in peril. Therefore, as W.C. Fields would ask, why give suckers an even break?

What is an Article V Convention?

The Founding Fathers built into the U.S. Constitution many protections against federal government overreach. One such protection is Article V, which says,

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.

Under this Article, states, with or without Congress’ consensus, can call a convention of states to propose amendments to the Constitution. Once such amendments are ratified by the legislatures or by conventions of three fourths of the states, the amendments become part of the constitution.

Who is interested in Article V these days?

* There are currently 28 states with active applications for an Article V Convention. Eight applications were submitted in 2017, and eight in 2016. Twelve were submitted in prior years.

* Most applications so far call for a balanced budget, restraining of the federal government, and overturning of the U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission. Conservative states support the first two subjects, and progressive states the third. Within both factions, there is opposition. Conservative Eagle Forum and liberal Common Cause have expressed deep concerns.

* Proponent money is coming from prominent groups, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council and the WolfPAC.

Where do the Suckers Come In?

* Article V only says that Congress must call a convention when a certain number of states apply, and proposed amendments become part of the Constitution once a certain number of states ratify.  Details, whether they abide by the intentions of the Founders or not, are left to the states.  Where does it say the convention needs to be limited to a specific subject? Interestingly, applications are somewhat vague. Reining in the federal government could mean anything. It could mean getting rid of the 2nd Amendment or of Roe vs Wade. For example, Hawaii’s application only requests Congress to “convene a limited national convention under article V for the exclusive purpose of proposing an amendment to the United States Constitution that will limit the influence of money in our electoral process.” Any money? A certain amount of money indexed for inflation?

* The U.S. National Debt is around $20 trillion. Debt to Gross National Product is 104%, and the tipping point (when a country is in peril of default) is 77% according to the World Bank. Pretty soon we will all be working and paying taxes just to pay interest on the debt. So, yes, a balanced budget amendment would be great – if folks at the convention agreed to cut the military budget, Social Security, Medicare, and other major federal entitlements and expenditures in half, and double the taxation rate, either all at once or over the next 15 years.

Then there is the ratification process. Red state legislators would be thrown out of office if they touched any entitlements or perhaps came back without “clarifying” the 2nd Amendment. Blue states legislators would have to find new jobs if they expected significant cuts to the military or to Social Security.

How about the manner in which the ratification process would take place? Where is the requirement that ratification needs to be by one state one vote, as proponents claim?

The Alternatives

If states are truly concerned about federal fiscal mismanagement, they could incentivize candidates for federal office from their state to come to Washington prepared to cut spending significantly or lose their state’s support. They could encourage voters within their state to elect or re-elect only candidates who truly desire a balanced federal budget. If states are truly concerned about Citizens United vs. the FEC they could simply limit campaign contributions across the board within their states, including contributions from unions.

If none of these alternatives are happening now, why would we be made to believe they would miraculously happen in the context of an Article V Convention? Defies logic.