Mississippi lawmakers introduced a resolution to join 14 other states in calling for a Convention of the States to amend the U.S. Constitution. If passed into law, SCR 596 would use Article V of the U.S. Constitution to “call a Convention for the specific and exclusive purpose of proposing amendments to the Constitution of the United States,” once the state application threshold has been met. Using Article V, Mississippi legislators aim to impose “fiscal restraints on the federal government, and amendments that limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.”
Although the Mississippi resolution is almost identical to the other 14 applications calling for a convention, it would prevent the state’s chosen delegates from supporting term limits on members of Congress.
For decades, the federal government has run massive deficits. Unfortunately, this wanton spending has created a national debt that now exceeds $22 trillion. Despite this alarming figure, Congress has not attempted to rein in federal spending in recent years. In fact, Congress has done the exact opposite.
Increasingly, states are considering enacting Article V of the U.S. Constitution, which allows states to call for a convention to propose amendments to the Constitution. Under Article V, two-thirds of states (34) must approve and submit applications to Congress before a convention can be called. Should a convention be called, states, without the approval of Congress, can pass amendments to the Constitution, if three-fourths (38) approve. To date, this method of amending the Constitution has never been used.
Article V opponents claim a Convention of the States could devolve into a so-called “runaway convention,” in which “anything in the Constitution [could] be amended.” However, this is practically impossible. The legislation proposed in Mississippi would restrain Mississippi delegates from considering any other measures not specifically in the application and would allow the state’s legislature to “recall its delegates at any time for a breach of a duty or a violation of the instructions provided.”
Fears of a runaway convention are unfounded. In fact, there are many protections within the Article V process that all but ensure the convention’s scope is severely limited. These safeguards include political dynamics, specific provisions in states’ applications restricting amendments to be proposed, the potential for lawsuit, the presence of legally binding instructions given to commissioners at the convention that would be enforced by the states, and “the potential for more judicial challenge, at every step of the process.”
State lawmakers are elected to represent the best interests of their constituents. Part of their role includes limiting the power of the federal government and preserving the power of the states. The concept of federalism, wherein power is divided among national and state governing bodies, is a fundamental principle of the American governing system.
Because the U.S. Congress seems incapable of reducing out-of-control spending, which puts the nation in peril, lawmakers in Mississippi should join other states to address this looming catastrophe. By utilizing a constitutional mechanism that can rein in the profligate spending of the federal government, the states can reassert their vital role in checking the power of the federal government.
The following articles provide additional information on Article V and 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
In this Research & Commentary, Heartland state government relations manager 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 United States Constitution. Stroud examines their history and current efforts among both groups.
A Proposed Balanced Budget Amendment
In this Heartland Policy Brief, constitutional law scholar Rob Natelson offers a new draft of legislation for states to use as templates for an Article V convention in which lawmakers would propose a balanced budget amendment. Natelson also goes through the history and background of the Article V movement and offers legislators criteria for drafting a balanced budget amendment.
Debts, Deficits, and the BBA
William H. Fruth, the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force co-founder, authored this guide highlighting the United States’ growing debt crisis. Fruth says an Article V convention to create a balanced budget amendment could finally significantly reduce the dangerous national deficit.
Article V: A Handbook for State Lawmakers
In his Article V: A Handbook for State Lawmakers, Independence Institute Senior Fellow Robert Natelson provides state legislators with the tools needed to enact the Article V convention process legally, effectively, and safely. Natelson explains the fundamentals of the procedure and what a convention would look like today. Natelson works through a step-by-step process, from application to ratification, and addresses “runaway convention” fears. Natelson also offers practical recommendations and amendments for state lawmakers in this important resource.
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.
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.
Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and is does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit the Center for Constitutional Reform website, 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 of 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 Arianna Wilkerson, a state government relations manager at The Heartland Institute, at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.