An Article V convention, also known as the Convention of States, has quietly become a political inevitability, as state legislators all over the nation consider how to rein in the federal government’s unprecedented overreach and abuse. The Founding Fathers placed what has been called a “Constitutional emergency cord” in the Constitution’s Fifth Article, to be used by states in case the federal government grows beyond its legal boundaries.
In 2014, three states passed the application to call a convention, and legislators from 14 states have already committed to filing the application in 2015, with more states likely to follow suit. Congress must call a convention if 34 states pass the application for the purpose of proposing amendments to the Constitution. (Three-fourths of the states must ratify proposed amendments before they take effect.)
Since the movement is gaining momentum – and there is no “expiration date” on the applications which have been passed already – the Convention of States has become the “sleeper issue” that will not only shape the 2016 presidential races, but will shape the course of our nation for decades to come.
Last week, a group of over a hundred state legislators – most appointed as delegates from their states – came from all over the nation to Indiana to prepare for the Convention of States. The legislators, who hailed from thirty-three states, attempted to establish the structure and rules of a convention. Though Article V is clear about Congress’s duty to call a convention upon two-thirds of the states passing applications, each convention sets its own rules once it convenes.
This group, the Assembly of State Legislatures (formerly the Mt. Vernon Assembly), hammered out some processes to which the states could possibly agree upon via resolution. They made decisions about how to officially adopt delegates and procedural protocols based on historical precedence. Two of the issues decided were:
- All states at an Article V gathering will receive one vote, to comply with historical precedent.
- Mason’s Manual, the parliamentary manual designed specifically for state legislatures, will be the basic source for convention rules.
These rules were not meant to bind the future convention. Rather, they provide starting points to facilitate the first Article V Convention of States (though not the first convention attended by multiple states).
By hammering out these topics in advance, the legislators will help stave off any criticisms of a “runaway convention.” In fact, the federal government, according to the attendees, is what can be accurately described as “runaway.”
“The federal government is totally out of control,” Texas state Representative Paul Workman said after attending the meeting. “Runaway federal spending, overregulation, and the usurpation of states’ rights are crippling our economy. … [T]ime is running out to right the ship, and I believe a Convention of States may be the best way to get the federal government under control.”
Though Convention of States support is mainly comprised of Republicans, Democrats and independents are joining the cause as the IRS scandal, the NSA, privacy concerns, and other instances of federal government’s overreach dominate the news. On the Assembly’s second day, delegates elected committee chairs and co-chairs for three committees: Rules and Procedures, Judiciary, and Planning, Communication and Finance. Importantly, the working committees of the Assembly of State Legislatures have bipartisan leadership – with a Democrat and Republican legislator serving as co-chairs for each.
Over the next few months, the committees will continue to work on their specific proposals to present for consideration at the group’s next planned meeting in December.
“States are the laboratories of democracy,” Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore David Long said. “If something gets done properly, it doesn’t come from Washington. It comes from the states.”