The Leaflet: Restoring Federalism through Article V
This week's Leaflet examines a recent Policy Brief by Robert Natelson on the Article V convention for proposing amendments.
State lawmakers weighing whether to apply for a federal amendments convention are often asked, “How do you know an amendments convention is a convention of the states?" In a new Heartland Policy Brief, titled “Why the Constitution’s ‘Convention for Proposing Amendments’ Is a Convention of the States,” renowned law professor Robert Natelson argues, using ample historical evidence, the Founding Fathers and lawmakers and scholars throughout American history have understood an amendments convention is unquestionably a convention of the states.
Natelson takes on the important task of rebutting anti-convention arguments, many of which were first developed in 1960s and 1970s by academics, commentators, and lobbyists. As evidence of his claims, Natelson points to the interstate conventions of pre- and post-Independence America. Some of these conventions would summon every state in the Union, or at least every state in a region, and were thus considered to be a general convention, or a “convention of the states.” These conventions were held in 1754, 1765, 1774, 1780, 1786, and 1787, and they covered a wide variety of important issues.
Natelson also examines official ratification-era records from 1787 to 1790 that explicitly designate a convention for proposing amendments to be a convention of the states. These records include correspondence referring to a convention of states from the governors of New York and North Carolina and resolutions in the legislatures of Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia. Natelson wrote, “Within a few months amid the ratification debates, five states in different regions of the country—three in favor, one against, and one neutral—issued seven official documents identifying an amendments convention as a convention of the states.”
The issue of constitutional amendments and how to best propose them has attracted more attention in recent years from supporters and critics of proposals to call for a convention of states to propose amendments to the Constitution. As the federal government continues to spend and borrow beyond the limits of the tax revenue it regularly receives, concerned citizens have sought answers to America’s bloated government problem that don’t involve relying on Washington, DC. Many have found recourse in Article V of the U.S. Constitution.
The text of Article V states two-thirds of states (34) must pass matching applications, or resolutions, compelling Congress to call a “Convention for proposing Amendments.” States can select their own delegates to represent them at the convention, with each state present getting one vote for or against proposed amendments. The amendments would then need to be ratified by three-fourths of all states (38) in order to be included in the U.S. Constitution.
In September, the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force organized a balanced budget amendment (BBA) planning convention in Phoenix, Arizona. The planning convention brought together 72 formal delegates from 19 states for the purposes of adopting rules, practicing processes, and laying the groundwork for an eventual BBA convention of states.
Other organizations have gained support from millions of Americans and have been successful in getting their applications passed in state legislatures. The Convention of States Project advocates for an Article V convention that would consider multiple amendments to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government. So far, the group has passed resolutions in 12 states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas.
Compact for America offers a different route to amending the Constitution. It would streamline the Article V amendment process to a single resolution that must be passed in 38 states. Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, and North Dakota have passed a Compact for a Balanced Budget resolution.
Natelson is a Heartland senior fellow in constitutional jurisprudence. In July, he authored a Heartland Policy Brief titled “A Proposed Balanced Budget Amendment,” in which Natelson provides a draft constitutional amendment for a balanced budget. For more information about constitutional reform or the Article V movement, visit Heartland’s Center for Constitutional Reform website at heartland.org/constitution.
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