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Don't Be This Guy

Neither Compact for America nor any other serious Article V effort is seeking to organize a “constitutional convention” such as the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, or as is found in many state constitutions.

No authority for a “constitutional convention,” which has the inherent power to form entirely new governments and constitutions, exists anywhere in the United States Constitution.

The Constitution only provides for two kinds of conventions—a convention for proposing amendments and a convention for ratifying amendments. As this fact illustrates, not every “convention” that can make constitutional changes is inherently a “constitutional convention.” For instance, nobody ever calls a ratification convention a “constitutional convention.” No one seriously claims that a ratification convention will “runaway” and form a new government or constitution. Everyone recognizes that a ratifying convention is just that—a convention that is limited by the Constitution to ratifying amendments proposed by another body. It is just as clear that a convention for proposing amendments under Article V operates subject to the limitations of the Constitution. This is because the proposals of a convention for proposing amendments are expressly subject to the same ratification requirement as amendments proposed by Congress.

Being subject to the limitations of the Constitution, and operating under the authority of the Constitution, a convention for proposing amendments can no more constitutionally change the ratification requirement specified in the Constitution, than a ratifying convention could change the amendment submitted to it for ratification. Further, being organized under the Constitution based on the "Application" of the states, the agenda of a convention for proposing amendments is necessarily limited to what is requested in that Application.

While we recognize that the term "Constitutional Convention" has been popularized, and the term "Article V Convention" is less well-known, words really do matter. Advocates of amending the constitution by convention should insist on precision in language when talking about Article V until the day comes when fear no longer dominates the Article V discussion.

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