At present, there is a great deal of misinformation from groups on the left and right jockeying to steal some attention off the coat-tails of Convention of States Project, the grassroots organization whose powerful rise has so far convinced twelve state legislatures to pass its resolution under Article V of the Constitution. When this resolution is passed by 34 states or 2/3rds of the 50 states, an amendments convention will be called wherein all 50 states will send delegates to a convention to propose amendments A) limiting the size, scope, and jurisdiction of the federal government, B) imposing term limits on Congress and federal officials, and C) placing controls on taxation and spending.
Many misunderstandings propagated by 230 opposed organizations under George Soros’ direction on the Left, and the John Birch Society, Eagle Forum, and National Association for Gun Rights on the Right, are clarified by an honest and clear reading of the text of Article V itself.
Historical background of the meaning of individual words in the text helps clarify the rest. To this end, I present a reference piece, the Annotated Article V, containing a large number of footprints tied directly to the constitutional language as well as a grammatical diagram of the article illustrating the composition of the language used.
For those new to the power of an Article V amendments convention and Convention of States Project’s efforts to secure one, this video helps explain concisely.
The Annotated Article V:
A Textual Guide
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states[i], shall[ii] call[iii] a convention[iv] for proposing[v] amendments[vi], which, in either case[vii], shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part[viii] of this Constitution[ix], when ratified[x] by the legislatures of three fourths[xi] of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress[xii]; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.
[i] As can be seen from the plain language, Congress itself “shall propose” or “shall call.” Just as Congress has itself proposed amendments, just the same the states propose amendments in the called convention. Congress proposes amendments in its own session; the states propose amendments in a convention.
[ii] Congress is constitutionally required to call the convention. Congress itself has no legal authority to block the convention. Cf. Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 85: “In opposition to the probability of subsequent amendments, it has been urged that the persons delegated to the administration of the national government will always be disinclined to yield up any portion of the authority of which they were once possessed. For my own part I acknowledge a thorough conviction that any amendments which may, upon mature consideration, be thought useful, will be applicable to the organization of the government, not to the mass of its powers; and on this account alone, I think there is no weight in the observation just stated. I also think there is little weight in it on another account. The intrinsic difficulty of governing thirteen States at any rate, independent of calculations upon an ordinary degree of public spirit and integrity, will, in my opinion constantly impose on the national rulers the necessity of a spirit of accommodation to the reasonable expectations of their constituents. But there is yet a further consideration, which proves beyond the possibility of a doubt, that the observation is futile. It is this that the national rulers, whenever nine States concur, will have no option upon the subject. By the fifth article of the plan, the Congress will be obliged "on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the States which at present amount to nine, to call a convention for proposing amendments, which shall be valid, to all intents and purposes, as part of the Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the States, or by conventions in three fourths thereof.'' The words of this article are peremptory. The Congress "shall call a convention.'' Nothing in this particular is left to the discretion of that body. And of consequence, all the declamation about the disinclination to a change vanishes in air. Nor however difficult it may be supposed to unite two thirds or three fourths of the State legislatures, in amendments which may affect local interests, can there be any room to apprehend any such difficulty in a union on points which are merely relative to the general liberty or security of the people. We may safely rely on the disposition of the State legislatures to erect barriers against the encroachments of the national authority.”
[iii] Congress’ role in the Article V convention of states process is strictly ministerial. To “call” means to declare simply. Congressional Research Service report R42592 states "Congress has historically laid claim to broad responsibilities in connection with a convention, including receiving, judging, and recording state applications; establishing procedures to summon a convention; setting the amount of time allotted to its deliberations, determining the number and selection process of its delegates; setting internal convention procedures, and providing arrangement for the formal transmission any proposed amendments to the states.”
[iv] “In traditional Anglo-American political usage, a “convention” is an assembly, other than a legislature, convened to address short-term political problems,” states constitutional scholar Robert G. Natelson. Many non-Article V conventions of states have been held over our country’s history, both prior to and after the Philadelphia constitutional convention. The standard rule of these conventions is that each state has equal suffrage at convention, i.e., “one state, one vote.” Therefore, worries that a convention of states would be dominated by population-dense states like New York, Texas, Florida, or California should be assuaged by this long-standing historical precedent. The “Proposed Rules” put forth by the Convention of States Project include this provision.
[v] The purpose of the convention is here limited to the endeavor of proposal. The states, at the convention, have no more power than to propose amendments that must be ratified by 3/4ths of the states to become valid as constitutional law. This obfuscation has its origins in the 20th century. The“runaway convention” myth originated to protect the highly controversial ruling of Roe v. Wade, against an Article V application then being pushed for its repeal. Surprisingly, supposedly pro-constitutional, pro-life groups like the John Birch Society and Eagle Forum have anchored their arguments in this same idea.
[vi] Note that nowhere in this wording does Article V grant the states the authority to write a new constitution. The language is plain and explicit. The purpose of the convention is “for proposing amendments” to the existing constitution.
[vii] The equivalency between the two modes of amendment proposal is made explicit here. Any amendments proposed either the congressional or states convention method are equally valid “as part of this Constitution,” provided they are ratified.
[ix] If Article V permitted a “runaway convention,” or was an avenue to a “con-con,” i.e. “constitutional convention,” then the qualifier, “as part of this Constitution” would not have been written. No new constitution would be part of the old constitution.
[x] Only ratification has the authority to give a proposed amendment the force of law. The argument has been proposed by the John Birch Society and other opponents that once in convention commissioners can change the ratification number from 3/4ths of the states (38) to whatever it wants it to be. This is patently nonsensical by virtue of the fact that it is written here in Article V that 3/4ths of the states are needed for ratification. Because the ratification qualification is constitutional, it would require a constitutional amendment to the ratification threshold in Article V. In order to take force of law, this amendment would first have to pass the established threshold of 3/4ths of the states in order to take force of law.
[xi] 3/4ths of our present 50 states is 38 states. This means it only takes 13 states to block any proposed amendment from becoming law. Those who fear the 2nd Amendment or any other part of the Bill of Rights could be threatened by this process should be completely assured that certainly 13 states would oppose repealing any one of the first ten amendments. Moreover, such dangerous ideas are fully precluded from the limited subject of the Convention of States application: amendments which “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 for members of Congress.”
[xii] Apart from the compelled ministerial duty of Congress to call a states convention, this is the only other role of Congress in the process. Congress is constitutionally invested with the authority to name the date and place of the convention, then they sit along the sidelines.