10 Point Refutation: Many Self-Professed Constitutionalists Are Pushing for a Constitutional Convention, Proposed by the States, despite the Dangers of Such a Plan

Article excerpt

In order to buttress its call for an Article V convention, the Center for Constitutional Government at the Gold-water Institute has published a document entitled "10 Facts to Rebut the Mythology of a Runaway Convention." This list is designed to set forth a roster of reasons that an Article V convention is not only safe, but necessary. In order to effectively rebut the Goldwater Institute's rebuttal, the definition of a few key terms and concepts must be set forth. Principally, the reader must be familiar with Article V of the Constitution, the type of convention it anticipates, the history of such a provision, and the likely metes and bounds that would establish the legal territory of any convention authorized under the relevant constitutional grant of power.

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First, let us look at the black letter of Article V. Article V of the Constitution reads 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.

Plainly stated, Article V requires the Congress of the United States to call "a Convention for proposing Amendments" upon receipt of applications for such by two-thirds of the states. Then, any amendment proposed by such a convention becomes for "all Intents and Purposes ... part of this Constitution" if subsequently ratified by three-fourths of the states, either by the state legislatures or by state conventions, as determined by Congress. To date, no such convention has been held. Recently, however, a significant bloc of erstwhile conservatives and constitutionalists has united in pleading with the states to apply to Congress to convene just such a convention.

What would be the purpose of such a convention, and why are otherwise conservative organizations working so diligently to bring it to pass? The answers to these questions are revealed through the "10 Facts" document and this article's refutation of those "facts." What follows is a recitation of the "10 Facts" followed by the appropriate constitutional response.

Verifying Facts

The first fact, verbatim, says: "Article V does not authorize a constitutional convention; it authorizes a convention for proposing specific amendments."

Right out of the chute, the 'TO Facts" author adds a word to the Constitution that isn't there. Article V does not contain the word "specific" as a modifier of the noun "amendments." While this might seem like an inconsequential and picayune point, it is anything but, especially in light of the gravity of the matter at issue. The plain language of Article V limits neither the scope of the convention it anticipates nor the number or substantiveness of the amendments that may be proposed therein. In fact, if the purpose of the suggested convention is to propose amendments to the Constitution, doesn't that make it per se a constitutional convention, regardless of how narrow an agenda those calling for the convention say they will follow? It seems so very dangerous to rely upon semantics as a balance to the risks that would attend such a convention, regardless of the nomenclature preferred by its advocates. Besides, adding and deleting words from the Constitution is a trick typically employed by enemies of our Republic, not by those sailing under the colors of the Constitution.

The second of the Goldwater Institute's "10 Facts" states: "When the Founders drafted the U.S. Constitution in 1787, they specifically rejected language for Article V that would have allowed the states to later call for an open convention. …