Article V of the U.S. Constitution gives a supermajority of state legislatures the power to call a convention to restrain an overreaching federal government through targeted constitutional amendments. There is no reason to worry about a “runaway” convention because three-fourths of the states—38 states—would have to ratify whatever amendment might be proposed. Moreover, nothing in the nation’s history justifies fear of a “runaway” convention.
It is a myth that the U.S. Constitution was born of a “runaway” convention. The truth is the Convention of 1787 had an incredibly broad mandate from Congress—to establish “in these states a firm national government . . . [and] render the federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government and the preservation of the Union.” In proposing the Constitution to amend the Articles of Confederation, the 1787 convention stayed well within the congressional call, as well as within the commissions of most delegates.
Although the Articles required unanimous ratification for alterations to it, and the Constitution only required ratification by nine states, the Constitution was only binding on those states that ratified it. While not every state in the Confederation initially ratified the Constitution, all of them ultimately did. In the end, the Constitution displaced the Articles of Confederation on the very terms prescribed by the Articles.
Today, the Goldwater Institute will release a new study that shows the states and Congress understood for decades after ratification that Article V provided an orderly way to make additional changes to the Constitution that would enhance its basic protection of freedom. If states choose to exercise their ultimate authority over the federal government through the Article V amendment process, history shows a “runway” convention just won’t happen.
Nick Dranias holds the Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan Chair for Constitutional Government and is director of the Joseph and Dorothy Donnelly Moller Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute.
Goldwater Institute: Amending the Constitution by Convention: A Complete View of the Founders’ Plan
Yale Law School: Report of Proceedings in Congress, February 21, 1787
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