Research & Commentary: Constitutional Reform Efforts in Virginia

Published February 1, 2017

As of January 30, the United States holds over $19 trillion in total public debt, a figure that is expected to grow over the next decade. The Congressional Budget Office reported in January 2017 publicly held debt will increase from “77 percent of GDP ($15 trillion) at the end of 2017 to 89 percent of GDP ($25 trillion) by 2027.” The federal government has failed to address the mounting debt crisis, and the 115th Congress approved in January a nearly $10 trillion increase of publicly held debt, calling the decision “appropriate.”

To curb the federal government’s spending, several groups have been encouraging state legislators to use Article V of the Constitution to put forward amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Two-thirds of the states, 34, must approve and submit applications to Congress before a convention of the states can be called under Article V. Thus far in 2017, legislators in the Commonwealth of Virginia have proposed two joint resolutions, now pending in the state’s Senate, calling for conventions with various amendment proposals.

One resolution was introduced by state Sen. Emmett Hanger “for the purpose of proposing an amendment to the United States Constitution that pertains to the subject of balancing the federal budget.” If passed, Virginia would become the 29th state to approve the resolution.

Another resolution being considered includes additional actions by a proffered convention. Introduced by state Sen. Carrico, it calls for an Article V convention to propose amendments that would “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and … Congress.” This resolution is broader and calls for more specific restraints on the federal government. The legislation is supported by the Convention of States, a constitutional reform project established by Citizens for Self-Governance with “the purpose of stopping the runaway power of the federal government.” A total of eight states have passed this proposal, and 20 other states considered it in 2016.

In September 2016, Convention of States hosted an Article V convention simulation in Williamsburg, Virginia. Every state was represented at the simulation, and 137 delegates participated. The simulated convention passed amendment proposals relating to public debt, term limits for members of Congress, and limiting federal powers. Convention of States Project co-founder Michael Farris called the simulation “a turning point in history,” and he declared, “The spirit of liberty and self-government has been reignited.”

As elected officials representing the interests of the American people, it is paramount state legislators take notice to the ever-increasing debt of the federal government. Virginia lawmakers should consider the costs to people of the Commonwealth that are associated with Washington, DC’s out-of-control spending and utilize constitutionally backed reform efforts to rein in the irresponsible actions of the federal government.

The following articles provide additional information on constitutional reform.

Article V Quick Reference Guide
Kyle Maichle, The Heartland Institute’s project manager for constitutional reform, authored the Article V Quick Reference Guide to provide important information about the constitutional reform movement and process to advocates, legislators, and policy experts. This guide describes how the Article V convention process works. As Maichle explains, the process consists of state legislatures enacting applications; Congress receiving the applications; and states agreeing to convention logistics, setting out voting rules, and ratifying an amendment that has been agreed to by the states. It also provides reasons for calling a convention and rebuts some of the most commonly used falsehoods made by opponents.

Research & Commentary: A Primer on the Constitutional Reform Movement–commentary-a-primer-on-the-constitutional-reform-movement
In this Research & Commentary, Heartland Government Relations Coordinator Lindsey Stroud examines two constitutional reform groups, the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force and the Convention of States. Both groups have been active in the passage of state applications calling for an Article V convention for the purpose of proposing amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Stroud examines their history and the current efforts being made within both groups.

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.

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.


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.

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, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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 Nathan Makla, Heartland’s state government relations manager, at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.