A Constitutional Convention can be Limited in Scope

Published February 4, 2016

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio recently announced that he fully endorses an Article V convention. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has made a similar call.

Article V is one of two methods provided by the Constitution to initiate amendments. This approach is implemented when two-thirds of state legislatures, or 34 states, submit applications to Congress calling for a convention.

While winning praise from conservatives, Rubio’s announcement has set off a firestorm of criticism from the Republican Party establishment.

Noah Rothman issued a lengthy column in Commentary magazine on Dec. 31 accusing Rubio of supporting a convention to appease conservative talk radio hosts who have advocated for an Article V convention, such as Sean Hannity and Mark Levin.

Many conservative pundits have been tough on Rubio because of his role in pushing a controversial immigration reform bill in 2013. Rothman calls Rubio’s endorsement of Article V “a dangerous pander to one of the right’s worst ideas.” Rothman’s column is largely a collection of old arguments against the convention process and is peppered with speculative claims about Rubio’s motives.

Far from the superficial treatment characteristic of politicians pandering to audiences’ prejudices, Rubio’s support for a convention shows a grasp of constitutional procedures and an awareness of potential obstacles. In October, he warned special interests would try to hijack the convention process. “But just be aware that the same groups that are trying to pass legislation that violates the Constitution are the same groups of people that are going to try to change that Constitution, and we are going to fight them at that convention,” he said.

Rubio never wavered on that commitment, saying two months later, “I think you’d have to limit the convention, and that’s what they’re proposing: a very limited convention on specific, delineated issues like term limits and like a balanced budget amendment.”

Rothman tries to shoot down Rubio’s assertion that the scope of a convention can be controlled, writing, “Contrary to popular belief, there are no rules for such a convention. Congress has tried on over 20 occasions to craft a uniform set of rules governing a convention process, but it has failed every time.”

But Congress isn’t where the Article V action is at this point. The Assembly of State Legislatures, or ASL, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers, has been meeting since 2013 to work on a set of rules for a convention and is expected to finalize rules this summer. The board of directors of the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, has approved a model policy on Article V convention rules.

Both ALEC and ASL are acting on the principle that the states, not Congress, are in charge of running an Article V convention. The role of Congress in the runup to a convention is very limited, as defined in the Constitution. Its duties are to count and receive applications, make the call for a convention, and determine the method of ratification.

Rothman also falsely claims the movement for a balanced budget amendment has limited support, writing, “To induce more states to call for a convention, the scope of such a gathering would have to broaden substantially.”

Rothman is evidently unaware that 27 states have already enacted single-subject resolutions for a convention for the purpose of a balanced budget amendment. Another eight state legislatures will be considering balanced budget amendment applications in 2016. A poll conducted by Fox News in 2013 found 85 percent of Americans want a balanced budget amendment.

As those numbers indicate, there is huge public and legislative support for a convention. The Article V movement is serious about its aims and working hard to meet the challenge of calling a convention to offer a balanced budget amendment.

Rothman does Rubio and the entire Article V movement a disservice by mischaracterizing Rubio’s motives and failing to do basic research on the constitutional reform movement.

[Originally published at the San Antonio Express-News]