During a speech at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s annual Policy Orientation convention, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) called on state lawmakers to draft and pass legislation that would authorize the state to join the growing movement to convene a convention of the states to consider and draft a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced national budget.
All Aboard the Reform Train
Kyle Maichle, project manager for constitutional reform at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News, says the constitutional reform wheels are already in motion
“According to constitutional law expert Rob Natelson, states should be working together to design the overall operation of a convention,” Maichle said. “The convention operations and rules are currently being considered by the Assembly of State Legislatures, which met in Utah in November. Although the ASL left Utah without ratifying a set of rules, it is closer to finalizing the framework for a convention. The group will meet in New York or Philadelphia during the summer.”
Safeguards Already in Place
Maichle says the popular objections to an Article V convention have already been addressed.
“An Article V convention is limited in scope, as it deals only with amendments to the Constitution,” Maichle said. “There are mechanisms already in place to limit the scope of a convention, including official legislative instructions from their respective states that require delegates to vote only for authorized amendments and delegate selection and limitation acts that serve as a sort of written code of conduct for delegates.”
Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute, says fears of a “runaway convention” are ungrounded. He says the history of the nation’s first convention, held in 1776, gives little reason to fear future conventions would go awry.
“Both the congressional call and most of the authorizing resolutions from the states articulated the expectation that delegates would revise the [proposed Articles of Confederation] to establish a firm national government,” Shapiro said. “‘Revision’ had a broader meaning than ‘amendment,’ entailing the possibility of a total rewrite of the Articles [of Confederation].
“The lower ratification threshold for the Constitution was fully in the power of the attending states to propose, because the Articles were already breached, and the Articles were being replaced, not merely amended,” said Shapiro. “[The] unanimity requirement for alterations was not legally binding on the states.
Shapiro says the constitutional amendment process is ultimately governed by the people.
“I would have no fear of a runaway convention because, whatever such a body produces would still have to be ratified by both legislative chambers in three quarters of the states,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro said Abbott’s call for a convention is encouraging.
“The topics are certainly encouraging,” Shapiro said. “A good team could no doubt draft excellent amendments within those fields of law and thus dramatically improve the status quo. Keep in mind that a well-drafted amendment does not hinge on judicial fidelity, but rather minimizes the opportunity for judicial intervention by creating its own inherent incentives for good and bad policy actors to follow its terms.”
Michael Bates ([email protected]) writes from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Robert G. Natelson, “Proposing Constitutional Amendments by Convention: Rules Governing the Process,” Tennessee Law Review: https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/proposing-constitutional-amendments-convention-rules-governing-process/