There is an alarming increase in the number and volume of otherwise credible conservative voices clamoring for the state governments to call a constitutional convention per the provisions set forth in Article V of the U.S. Constitution.
We begin this examination of the dangers posed by such a convention by laying out the constitutional authority relied upon by its advocates. Article V in relevant part:
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.
The Goldwater Institute recently published a three-part paper entitled "Amending the Constitution by Convention: A Complete View of the Founders' Plan" by Robert G. Natelson. The paper is seemingly intended to function as a tract for use to convert other conservatives to the cause of the constitutional convention as a remedy to runaway big government. The Executive Summary of Part 1 by Nick Dranias asserts that under Article V, the states have "the power to apply to Congress to hold a convention for the purpose of proposing constitutional amendments. This power was meant to provide a fail-safe mechanism to control the federal government."
Fedgov Powers "Few and Defined"
There is a fundamental error in this statement: The Constitution does not grant to the states any powers. On the contrary, the Constitution is the delegation by the sovereign states to the central (federal) government of a few and definite powers. The nature of this relationship is best described in The Federalist, No. 45, by James Madison:
The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.
There is another flaw in Dramas' Executive Summary regarding the power of Article V, and it effectively impedes the Goldwater Institute's march toward a new constitutional convention. Simply put, the black letter of Article V does not allow for a convention with any purpose other than "proposing amendments," which if ratified by the states (by either of the two methods provided) would become "part of [the] Constitution." Why would a constitutionalist, sincere in his desire to restore the proper balance between the state and national governments, advocate a convention to propose amendments to a Constitution that, according to both its authors and its plain language, already protects that delicate and unique balance of power between the states and the federal government? Is our Constitution as presently written silent or unclear on the subject of the rightful boundaries separating those two entities? In fact, it is not and therefore we do not need to incur the risk of upsetting that balance or erasing those boundaries by convening an Article V constitutional convention for that purpose.
Constitutional Remedy: Enforce the Constitution
The truth is that a call for a new constitutional convention under such auspices is contrary to the very spirit of rigidly hewing to the text of the Constitution (including the related concept of limited, enumerated powers) that animates friends of our Republic to struggle steadfastly against usurpations by the national government. We do not need a new constitutional convention if our legitimate aim is to reaffirm the principles already clearly set forth in our current Constitution.