Debunking Myths about the Article V Movement

Published November 25, 2015

The Idaho State Journal’s November 13 editorial titled “They Must Not like the Constitution” gave a “thumbs down” to 80 state legislators who attended the annual Assembly of State Legislatures (ASL) conference on November 11–13 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The editorial was not fair to the assembled legislators, nor was it accurate in describing the objectives of the growing Article V movement to amend the U.S. Constitution.

An Article V convention is not a “longshot proposition,” as the editorial board suggests. There are three major national campaigns vying to bring an Article V convention for the purpose of submitting a federal balanced budget amendment for ratification: Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force (BBATF), Compact for America, and Convention of States. The BBATF has been the most successful so far, with 27 states enacting a single-subject resolution calling for an Article V convention for a balanced budget amendment. Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Idaho are slated to consider resolutions backed by the BBATF during their legislative sessions in 2016.

Although resolutions by the Compact for America and Convention of States have been enacted in only four states so far, their contributions are vital to a needed national dialogue on reforming our federal budget process. The Heartland Institute’s Center for Constitutional Reform does not endorse any of these projects specifically, but it supports all efforts to invoke Article V of the U.S. Constitution to restore fiscal sanity and accountability to the federal government.

The editorial peddles the idea Maryland’s Article V application would lead to a “runaway convention” because, in addition to its balanced budget amendment, it would include a separate measure reversing the landmark Citizens United decision that eliminated some restrictions on political speech. This wouldn’t happen, however, because the two resolutions are separate, and it is unthinkable the 30 Republican-controlled state legislatures, which would dominate the convention, would approve an amendment reversing Citizens United. It is also unlikely Wolf PAC, the far-left, George Soros-funded campaign to end Citizens United, will team up with fiscal conservatives who have their eyes on a balanced budget amendment.

The political math simply doesn’t add up to a runaway convention. No proposed amendment to the Constitution will receive consideration until it gains the support of at least two-thirds of the states. This ensures a convention would not even consider any change to the U.S. Constitution that does not have the support of a large majority of the states. In addition, three-fourths of the states would have to pass any amendment that did come out of the convention for it to be added to the Constitution. A “runaway convention” would ensure any amendment(s) it might come up with would fail to receive enough support from the states.

In addition to these constitutional safeguards, states considering the Article V option have also passed bills limiting the power of the delegates at a future convention, such as restricting them from offering non-germane amendments and allowing governors to remove delegates who engage in behavior that could lead to a “runaway convention.”

Although it is true ASL did not finalize any rules coming out of the 2015 meeting in Salt Lake City, state legislators are one step closer to ensuring a structure for the first Article V convention in the nation’s history. The likely final verdict on ASL’s rules will come in summer 2016, when the group plans to meet in New York or Pennsylvania.

The Heartland Institute recently released a Policy Study by attorney David F. Guldenschuh on the current state of the Article V movement in the United States. The editorial board of the Idaho State Journal, and all who wish to be well-informed about this topic, should read this study before drawing any conclusions about this nascent but growing movement.

Kyle Maichle ([email protected]) is project manager of constitutional reform at The Heartland Institute.