There are two ways to make changes to the U.S. Constitution, according to Article V of the nation’s founding document. First, Congress can propose an amendment to the states. Second, if two-thirds of state legislatures come together, they can call a convention and in that convention, amendments can be proposed, regardless of Congress’ approval.
The first method is the only one that has ever been used for the 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. But now, conservative lawmakers appear to be pushing again for a constitutional convention of states, as the Hill reported.
This is by no means the first time that there has been an attempt to call such a meeting. The idea has popped up every few years. In 2016, 2018 and 2020 there were stirrings in state legislatures, but nothing came of the efforts.
If a convention was convened, it seems that lawmakers want to use the occasion to create a balanced-budget amendment and establish term limits for members of Congress.
“It’s really the last line of defense that we have. Right now, the federal government’s run away. They’re not going to pull their own power back. They’re not going to restrict themselves. And so this Article V convention is really, in my opinion … the last option that we have,” Republican Rep. John Wills of Iowa, the state’s House Speaker pro tempore, told the Hill.
There is a requirement for at least two-thirds of states to pass the call that would then force a convention. Thus far, 15 states (with Republican governors and completely Republican legislatures) have passed the model legislation that would push for a convention. Proponents need to have approval by 34 states.
The Hill reported that bills have passed at least one of the legislative chambers in another nine states. In another 17 states, bills have been introduced.
There have been many speaking out against how powerful the federal government is and how it may be hard to rein it in from within.
In November, former Sen. Rick Santorum, a Republican from Pennsylvania, wrote an opinion for Newsmax in which he made this point.
“There are good people in Washington, but they won’t save our nation. Only the people and the states can stop the authoritarian juggernaut, and an Article V Convention of States is our most powerful tool,” Santorum wrote.
If a convention is successfully convened, then any amendments proposed would have to be ratified by three-quarters of the states in order to take effect and actually be added as an amendment to the Constitution, as Article V lays out.
“…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,” Article V says.
This is no small requirement, and it will be very difficult to achieve.
“It’s a very high bar, very difficult to do,” Stuart Adams, the president of the Utah state Senate and ALEC’s chairman, told the Hill.
Besides this, just running the convention itself would be an significant obstacle. Once a call for convention was actually approved by enough states, Congress would then probably get to set the rules, since Article V does not lay out a specific outline for how the convention is to be run.
This would likely be controversial in and of itself. Add to that the fact that there is no real precedent for how a convention should be run. In 1787, the first and only Constitutional Convention, there was not even adherence to the rules.
“Congress can purport to make whatever rules it wants for the convention. The convention can then throw them in the trash, which is certainly what the convention in Philadelphia did in 1787,” David Super, a constitutional law expert at Georgetown Law, told the Hill. “There’s no guarantee that they will follow the ratification procedures. The only precedent we do have [is that] they didn’t follow the ratification procedures.”
But those who are in support of the convention seem to have little concern for the possibility of it turning into a chaotic process. Wills seemed to be quite optimistic about how a convention could turn out.
“I don’t know that anything is set in stone. I’d like to see a well-rounded convention. I’d like to see us tackle the problems in general, with one fell swoop,” Wills said, as the Hill reported. “Let’s just tackle the problems that we have now and be done with it. Versus, you know, trying to deal with it to the future.”