West Virginia is currently considering a proposed multiple-amendment application for an Article V convention to amend the U.S. Constitution. If an Article V convention is called for by the states, it would be limited to considering constitutional amendments that would require the federal government to enact a balanced budget, impose term limits on members of Congress, or that would mandate the reduction of federal regulations.
According to Article V of the U.S. Constitution, “The application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states.” Thirty-seven states are now considering calling for an Article V convention.
America is facing a crisis on multiple fronts. The United States has amassed an $18 trillion national debt; health care costs have skyrocketed as a result of the damaging mandates implemented by the Affordable Care Act; and crippling federal regulations now govern virtually every aspect of Americans’ lives. Congress has failed to solve these crises. It has instead chosen to enact laws that have stifled economic growth and threatened Americans’ liberties.
The American people have lost faith in the ability of Congress to restore order. A poll conducted by CBS News and The New York Times in May 2015 found only 12 percent of citizens approve of Congress’ job performance. An Article V convention would take the power out of the hands of federal legislators and the executive branch and put it into the hands of the states.
The most popular constitutional reform that is likely to be considered by an Article V convention is the creation of a balanced budget amendment. West Virginia is one of 49 states that require a balanced budget at the state level, and proponents of a federal balanced budget amendment believe the national government should abide by the same requirement. A poll by Fox News conducted in 2013 found 85 percent of Americans support adding a balanced budget requirement to the Constitution of the United States.
Some opponents of the creation of an Article V convention, such as the John Birch Society and the Eagle Forum, argue a “runaway” convention is possible and could result in even worse policies than what the nation now faces. Many experts, including constitutional law scholar Rob Natleson, have debunked this myth. They argue the applications for an Article V convention currently being considered have strong checks in place to guarantee the issues discussed at a potential Article V convention would be limited to predetermined topics. The Convention of States proposal, for instance, is limited only to considering a balanced budget amendment, term limits for members of Congress, and reducing federal regulations.
The Convention of States Project argues, “By calling a convention of the states, we can stop the federal spending and debt spree, the power grabs of the federal courts, and other misuses of federal power. The current situation is precisely what the Founders feared, and they gave us a solution we have a duty to use.”
In a November 2015 Research & Commentary, Heartland Institute Policy Analyst Timothy Benson wrote, “Imposing a fixed constitutional debt limit would increase transparency and be more likely to generate a balanced budget than the status quo of limitless debt spending. With the amendment in place, the federal government would no longer be able to set its own credit limit and write itself a blank check, and the states would become an active check on Washington, DC’s ambitions.”
The states have an obligation to address the threat caused by the national government’s inaction on many fronts. Calling for an Article V convention is one way to help move the public discussion forward and to effectively put pressure on Congress to take action.
The following documents provide additional information on a potential convention of the states and the Article V process.
The Article V Movement: A Comprehensive Assessment to Date and Suggested Approach for State Legislators and Advocacy Groups Moving Forward
This Heartland Policy Brief is a comprehensive overview of the most consequential social movement occurring in the United States today: the Article V movement. As attorney David Guldenschuh notes, “The desire for power and the influence of special-interest money has so utterly corrupted Washington, DC that citizens no longer feel their leaders and representatives are looking out for the nation’s best interests.” Guldenschuh explains the nation’s Founding Fathers recognized the national government might someday overreach its constitutional authority, which is why they included Article V in the U.S. Constitution. Article V provides a mechanism for states to propose constitutional amendments that can rein in the national government. Guldenschuh describes four Article V advocacy groups—the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, Convention of States Project, Wolf-PAC, and Compact for America—and he reports on educational efforts undertaken by those organizations and others.
Amending the Constitution by Convention: A More Complete View of the Founders’ Plan
Independence Institute Senior Fellow Rob Natelson describes the process of amending the Constitution of the United States through an Article V convention. The study details how an Article V convention is called, the rules of a convention, and the role of Congress. It is the first of three in a series of Policy Studies published by the Independence Institute on the issue of amending the Constitution through an Article V convention.
Amending the Constitution by Convention: Lessons for Today from the Constitution’s First Century
This is the second of three Policy Studies authored by Independence Institute Senior Fellow Robert Natelson on the issue of amending the Constitution of the United States through an Article V convention. Topics mentioned include efforts to call conventions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the history of the state application and convention process, and the nullification crisis.
Amending the Constitution by Convention: Practical Guidance for Citizens and Policymakers
This is the third study in a series of three Policy Studies by Independence Institute Senior Fellow Robert Natelson on the topic of amending the Constitution of the United States through an Article V convention. In this study, the author provides guidance to citizens and legislators on how to properly implement the process of calling an Article V convention. The text is meant be general in nature and not to be substituted for legal advice.
State Initiation of Constitutional Amendments: A Guide for Lawyers and Legislative Drafters
Independence Institute Senior Fellow Robert Natelson provides a guide to assist legislators and legislative counsel with the legal issues most likely to arise in the process of calling a convention of the states under Article V. Much attention has focused on the possibility of using Article V to rein in the growth of federal power, and many proposals are being advanced by a variety of organizations. This compendium serves as a valuable tool to assist with the legal analysis of the various Article V proposals.
Heartland Daily Podcast—Rob Natelson: Article V Constitutional Convention
In this edition of the Heartland Daily Podcast, H. Sterling Burnett, managing editor of Environment & Climate News, speaks with Robert Natelson, a senior fellow at the Independence Institute and former constitutional law professor at three different universities. Natelson and Burnett discuss the history and the practicality of an Article V constitutional convention. Natelson is one of the foremost scholars of the constitutional amendment process in general and Article V conventions of the states in particular. Natelson provides a historical analysis of what an Article V convention is, why it was included in the Constitution, how it functions, and previous and current attempts to implement the process.
The Constitutional Amendment Process and a Reform Proposal
This Cato Institute Policy Analysis argues the constitutional amendment procedure of Article V is defective. Because no amendment can be enacted without congressional approval, limitations on the federal government that Congress opposes are virtually impossible to pass. This has prevented the enactment of several amendments that would have constrained the government: a balanced budget limitation, a line-item veto, and congressional term limits. The author argues Article V should be reformed to allow two-thirds of the state legislatures to propose a constitutional amendment that would then be ratified or rejected by the states, acting through state conventions or state ballot measures. The author says such a return of power to the states would limit the nation’s overly centralized federal government by helping to restore the federalist character of the U.S. Constitution.
Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit the Center for Constitutional Reform at www.heartland.org/constitutional-reform, The Heartland Institute’s website at http://heartland.org, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at www.policybot.org.
The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact Logan Pike, Heartland’s state government relations manager for West Virginia, at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.