Don’t Fear the Founders’ Vision for Article V

While an effective attention grabber, those claims rely more on an overactive imagination than the actual facts.

A considerable amount of misinformation is spreading regarding the potential outcome of an Article V Convention, suggesting such an event could “fundamentally deconstruct the U.S. Constitution’s framework for governance.” While an effective attention grabber, those claims rely more on an overactive imagination than the actual facts. To quote Mark Twain, “How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and how hard it is to undo that work again,” so let the hard work commence!

Article V of the US Constitution lays out the process for adding amendments. Throughout our history, it has been accomplished by proposals from two-thirds of both houses of Congress. There is, however, another method included in Article V that allows two-thirds (34) of the states to submit applications to compel Congress to call an amendments convention. Unlike the 1787 Constitutional Convention, where most delegates were authorized to produce a replacement for the Articles of Confederation, this amendment drafting convention would focus solely on issues specifically mentioned in applications sent to Congress. If the convention proposes an amendment at least 38 states would need to approve (ratify) the proposed amendment for official adoption.

Far from being an affront to “the U.S. Constitution’s design for how America is governed,” states exercising their Article V powers is exactly what the drafters intended. They included this pathway for the American people, through their state legislatures, to bypass Congress as a means to propose constitutional amendments. Our Constitutional Framers foresaw a time when the national legislature, mired in gridlock and dysfunction, might be the source rather than the solution to our country’s problems and the states would need to address federal excess and abuse. Sadly, our country has reached such an inflection point.

Responsible leaders across our political spectrum—and around the world—regard America’s ballooning national debt (currently approaching $35 trillion) as unsustainable. The debt crisis has resulted in credit downgrades and even a warning from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Organizations like Let Us Vote for a Balanced Budget Amendment Citizens Campaign see Article V as the surest way to rein in federal overspending. Congress’ historically low approval ratings have spurred bipartisan support for Congressional term limits, and the Administrative State has assumed powers never envisioned by our Founders that threaten state and local sovereignty. Article V could provide a remedy to tackle each of these challenges as well as other problems facing the nation.

Delegates to an Article V convention would be instructed by their state legislatures on the scope of any proposed amendments. Anyone ignoring those instructions would likely be recalled. It’s difficult to imagine any delegate sacrificing their political career at the altar of some wildly outlandish idea like repealing a woman’s right to vote. Even if they did, there are guardrails to ensure any such proposals never achieve official amendment status. Congress could refuse to provide a mode of ratification; the courts could overturn the results; and ratification by 38 states would still be required before a proposed amendment become a constitutional amendment. Only proposals with near-universal appeal would meet the last requirement.

While often associated with conservative politics, Article V has no party or ideological affiliation. Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig and Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin are both prominent Democrats who support the Founding Fathers’ vision for Article V. Both have participated in American Legislative Exchange Council programs underscoring the nonpartisanship of federalism and Article V. Every step of an amendment’s convention would take place under intense scrutiny, with ample oversight, and would presumably be subject to judicial review, so for those worried that an Article V convention would magically turn America into a dystopian oligarchy with a snap of Thanos’ fingers, fear not. If the states were that omnipotent, they would have imposed the same functionality on the federal government as we currently see in state governments, and perhaps 75% of Americans wouldn’t believe that the country was headed in the wrong direction. Had critics bothered to read our founding documents, we could have avoided all this hysteria in the first place.

In Depth: Federalism

Genuine accountability to hardworking taxpayers results when state and local legislators work with members of the community to determine a plan of action that is right for each individual state, city or town. Real solutions to America’s challenges can be found in the states – America’s fifty laboratories of democracy…

+ Federalism In Depth