Who’s Afraid of an Article V Amendments Convention?

by Rachel Alexander

Every so often talk arises about holding an Article V Amendments convention amongst the states to amend the Constitution, since Congress has become increasingly unaccountable. In reaction, dire warnings spring up declaring that a “constitutional convention,” or “con con,” could result in a runaway convention where radical changes are made that fundamentally rewrite our Constitution. Are the doomsday warnings legitimate, or simply scare tactics to block desperately needed reforms?

Legislation is currently being considered in most state legislatures that would begin the process of adopting a National Debt Relief Amendment. Once ratified, it would prohibit Congress from increasing the federal debt unless a simple majority of the states approve. So far, North Dakota and Louisiana have passed the initial legislation with bipartisan support in both chambers of their state legislatures. Ultimately, 38 states will need to ratify the amendment. The language of the proposed amendment is very simple, “An increase in the federal debt requires approval from a majority of the legislatures of the separate states.”

Article V of the U.S. Constitution lays out the process by which amendments are added to the Constitution. Amendments may be proposed by either the states or Congress. Throughout America’s history, amendments have only been proposed by Congress. If proposed by the states, an amendment must then be ratified by three-quarters of the states or by conventions within the states. It is the initial convention called for by the states to propose amendments that naysayers, including some on the right oddly enough, claim may cause dangerous changes to the Constitution, even though it has never happened before.

The Founding Fathers rejected initial drafts of Article V that would have permitted open-ended conventions, and instead adopted very narrow, precise requirements. They rejected language four times that would have provided the mechanism for a full constitutional convention. In Federalist No. 85, Alexander Hamilton explained that states did not need to call for a full constitutional convention since Article V provides full power to amend the Constitution. James Madison specifically supported the use of Article V in Federalist No. 43. Accusations that an Article V Amendments convention will result in a full-blown “constitutional convention” or “con-con” are not correct. There is no such thing as a constitutional convention – it can be found nowhere in the Constitution.

The Goldwater Institute, considered the premiere state-based right-leaning think tank in the country, has published numerous papers explaining why an Article V Amendments convention to consider the National Debt Relief Amendment should not be feared. Nick Dranias, Director of the Goldwater Institute’s Center for Constitutional Government, wrote an essay entitled “Runaway Convention Myth Debunked,” in which he relayed the history of Article V, declaring, “Despite claims made to the contrary, the truth is that Article V does not provide authority for a foundational constitutional convention. The Founders specifically and repeatedly rejected efforts to substitute the current Article V language to allow for a foundational constitutional convention to be called.”

The National Debt Relief Amendment proposes only one amendment, specifically limiting the convention to consideration of that amendment only. Throughout each step of the way the process is set up to focus on one specific amendment; it is not like a flurry of amendments can be introduced at the last minute and shoved through. First, 34 states must pass resolutions proposing the exact same amendment. Next, delegates to the convention are selected by the state legislatures. Delegates that disregard their mission can be recalled and replaced. If there are attempts to consider things outside the scope of the proposed amendment at the convention, lawsuits can be filed to halt this activity, or Congress can refuse to send the results to the states for ratification. Finally, 38 states are required to ratify the results. 38 states are very unlikely to ratify something nutty – not even 10 states would ratify something nutty.

I received a shadowy email from an unidentified organization on Tuesday urging readers to oppose the bill in Arizona’s legislature. Why was the email anonymous? The opposition did not bother to speak up at the Arizona legislature’s committee hearing earlier this session against the bill. Nor did they at the Idaho legislature. Why are they afraid to debate their position publicly?

State Senator Curtis Olafson (R-Edinburg, N.D.) is leading the effort to pass a National Debt Relief Amendment through RestoringFreedom.org. He participated in Harvard’s Conference on the Constitutional Convention last fall, which included viewpoints from all across the political spectrum addressing the feasibility of an Article V Amendments convention. As part of the conference, the audience was permitted to suggest amendments. When some extreme sounding amendments were proposed, the speakers and the rest of the audience ignored the proposals. Olafson believes this is representative of how delegates chosen by state legislatures to conduct an Article V Amendments convention would treat radical amendment proposals. “Well-respected people would not suddenly develop collective insanity and go against instructions from state legislatures,” Olafson said. “Fearmongers like to speculate crazy scenarios.”

Congressman David Schweikert (R-AZ) introduced legislation in January at the Congressional level to start the amendment proposal. State Senator Art Wittich (R-MT), who is leading the effort to get the legislation passed in Montana, applauds concurrent federal legislation, but says that getting the amendment through Congress will be tougher. “It is politically easier for Congress to cut taxes than the budget, an inherent imbalance, and there is no incentive to exercise fiscal responsibility,” Wittich says. “Getting new members elected to Congress who would support this amendment is difficult since incumbents have vast advantages in elections due to redistricting, franking, etc. Since many states already prohibit deficit spending, they are already inclined to support this.”

It is disappointing that opponents are using fear to scare people – opponents who do not even have the guts to identify themselves. Article V is possibly the only tool we have left to fight the unaffordable expansion of federal government. Most of the 50 states are now considering National Debt Relief Amendment legislation. Tea Party groups and anyone concerned with the government’s runaway spending should lobby their legislatures to pass this legislation. Some of the states are also considering a balanced budget amendment. This is another amendment that will help rein in spending and would be easier to push through state legislatures than through Congress.

Senators Olafson and Wittich believe that detractors have it backwards. “People should fear the status quo of out of control spending more than they should fear an Article V Amendments convention,” Wittich said. Senator Olafson expanded, “For those who preach fear about a runaway convention, we have a runaway convention right here in front of our eyes, it is a runaway Congress with out of control spending, czars, and Obamacare. It was clearly the intent of the Founding Fathers that we, as state legislators, would understand that not only do we have a right to use Article V, but moreover, that we have a duty to use Article V when we see a serious challenge facing our nation that is not being solved by Congress.”

Olafson leaves detractors with this challenge:
For those of you who preach that we should fear an Article V amendments convention, I have two questions for which I would challenge you to provide logic-based answers.
1. The Founders included a process in Article V for the states to propose and ratify amendments that does not require any approval by Congress. Why would they provide the states that power and that process if they did not intend that the states should use it?
2. Can you provide for our enlightenment your official list of the 38 states that all of us should fear would ratify a dangerous, extremist or radical amendment?

 Reprinted from Townhall


  1. Conservative American says:

    No. This is a very bad idea. Why?

    First of all, we already have means for limiting the federal debt. It is not as if we are altogether without such existing means. A constitutional amendment is quite simply not necessary.

    Secondly, this proposal does NOT address the underlying problem, which Mr. Alexander articulated thusly:

    “Every so often talk arises about holding an Article V Amendments convention amongst the states to amend the Constitution, since Congress has become increasingly unaccountable.”

    The REAL issue is, as Mr. Alexander states, that “Congress has become increasingly unaccountable.” THAT is the issue which needs to be addressed. Given that fact, addressing the federal debt will do nothing to address all of the other areas in which “Congress has become increasingly unaccountable.” As of August, 2011, the approval rating of Congress was 12% and as of January 2012, only 13% approved of how Congress was doing it’s job. THAT is the root problem!

    Laslty, Mr. Alexander writes: “Next, delegates to the convention are selected by the state legislatures. Delegates that disregard their mission can be recalled and replaced.”

    And thus we have gained what? State legislatures may be no more accountable than the U. S. Congress AND we already have the option of replacing members of the U. S. Congress. Has having the ability to replace members of the U. S. Congress resulted in any increase in the approval rating of or the accountability of Congress? No! So Mr. Alexander’s “solution” is proven to be no solution at all.

    My objection is not to amending The Constitution per se but rather that, despite all of the verbiage, quotations and hype, what Mr. Alexander proposes is not a “solution” to anything. It would be yet another ineffectual Band-Aid serving only to distract from the real, underlying problem; that “Congress has become increasingly unaccountable.” THAT is the problem which needs to be addressed!

  2. Hey, I’m not a Mr.!

  3. That’s true! Anyone that knows Ms Alexander can vouch for that fact.

    Great article, hits the nail one the head. Anyone afraid doesn’t understand the process very well.

    • Conservative American says:

      The Mole wrote: “Anyone afraid doesn’t understand the process very well.”

      And what about those whose opposition is not based in fear, but rather in that the proposal isn’t a solution for anything?

  4. @ConservativeAmerican The Goldwater Institute has stated (paraphrasing) that the NDRA is the most powerful idea currently proposed to bring the federal debt under control. If, however, you have a better idea, by all means, share it with all of us. BTW, “let’s elect my guy to Congress” or “let’s change the party in power” don’t count as “better ideas.” We’ve tried those more than once and more than twice.

    • Conservative American says:

      Dear Senator Olafson:

      I’m sorry to disappoint you, Senator, but I don’t find The Goldwater Institute to be Conservative. From my perspective, they are merely attempting to use and abuse the name of a famous Republican to further their own ends. The Goldwater Institute has posted numerous position articles here at Sonoran Alliance with which I, and others, have taken issue. So I am entirely unimpressed with your reference to The Goldwater Institute.

      Yes, I do have a better idea and I will share it with you. Rachel Alexander clearly articulated the fundamental underlying problem when she wrote, “…Congress has become increasingly unaccountable.” THAT is the issue which we need to address. Calling for a constitutional amendment is a nice “rally ’round the flag, boys” issue but it is as impotent as proclaiming that you are for “mom, apple pie and the American flag”. It has the power to definitively change nothing. The bottom line, Senator, is that accountablility cannot be legislated. Either the people we elect are those who consider accountability to be important or they will ignore it, no matter what laws are passed.

      An infinitely better idea is to put every ounce of time and effort into electing real Conservatives to Congress. That means those who are both fiscally and socially Conservative and who have a proven track record of being so. THAT would solve the problem definitively. Once voters witness the effectiveness of real congressional Conservatives in reining in spending, they will no longer accept either tax and spend Democrats or RINO’s.

      Your idea is fatally flawed in that you simply shift things from the U. S. Congress to another set of legislative bodies, state legislatures. What is there about state legislatures which you feel makes them immune to the same foibles as the U. S. Congress, Senator?

      Conservative American

      • Conservative American,
        Regarding your disagreement with GI on certain issues-if you ever find someone with whom you agree 100% of the time on 100% of the issues?-Marry her/him! But, we all know that in time, the honeymoon ends and you WILL find some areas on which you disagree. Back to the serious discussion-I would be glad to address your question. First, electing different members to Congress won’t solve the problem. Once elected, members of Congress focus on one thing-getting re-elected. The system provides them a method to do exactly that. They have the unfettered ability to borrow and spend money. That empowers them politically and ensures their continued tenure in Congress. Anyone who is hoping beyond hope that Congress will one day wake up and have an epiphany and miraculously take action to reform itself will be sorely disappointed. In response to your question, the NDRA will dramatically change the dynamics of the decision to add additional debt. It will put in place a check and balance consistent with what our Founding Fathers envisioned for good governance. State legislators are much closer to the people. Most importantly, special interests are now able to exert their influence in a few square miles in DC to get what they want-and they want profligate spending. With the NDRA in place, their ability to pressure Congress to incur additional debt is severely diminished. The root of the problem is that DC is awash in money-borrowed money. Electing different people to Congress will NOT change that.

        • Conservative American says:

          Senator Olafson:

          I did find someone with whom I agree 100% of the time on 100% of the issues and I did, in fact, marry her. How about you? ;-)

          With all due respect, Sir, I never said that electing “different” members to Congress would solve the problem. What I said was that electing Conservative members to Congress would solve the problem. “Conservative” meaning both fiscally and socially Conservative and with a proven Conservative track record.

          You state that once elected, members of Congress focus on one thing; getting re-elected. With all due respect, Sir, it would seem that you have surrendered to cynicism regarding your fellow countrymen. It is when we come to believe that there is not one among us who would serve well and honestly in Congress that we have been completely beaten down and defeated by those who tell us that our form of government doesn’t work. There are countless Americans among us who would serve honestly and well in Congress. All we need to do is to get them to run, support them, vote for them and get them elected. I do not share your cynicism, Sir.

          Once again, Sir, it is impossible to legislate honesty, ethics or accountablility. That is why the answer lies in electing those to Congress who are, by nature, honest, ethical and accountable. Such individuals will not avail themselves of loopholes, even if they are available to them.

          What ensures someone’s continued tenure in Congress, when they are fiscally irresponsible, is insufficient interest and effort on the part of the electorate. There is not nor can there be any legislative “magic bullet” which will relieve the electorate of the “burden” of democracy.

          The Founding Fathers did not create a democracy for all time. What they gave us was a do-it-yourself form of government where we will have the democracy which we earn through our attention and effort. There is no remedy for an electorate which is not vigilant and which is unwilling to put their time, effort and money into preserving our freedoms. Let’s put the responsibility where it belongs instead of pretending that “someone” can come along and “fix” things for us. We are the repairmen of our government. If we fail to fix things, they won’t get fixed.

          I’m sorry, Sir, but I do not see where you proposal puts in place a check and balance. As I have previously stated, you are simply replacing one legislature with multiple legislatures and thereby mulitplying any foibles of legislatures.

          You say that state legislators are much closer to the people, however, being closer in terms of proximity does not mean that they are any closer in terms of being aligned with the will of the people. You are basing your conclusion upon a premise which is unfounded, Sir.

          As regards the influence of special interests, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that they will be in any way stymied by your proposal. Special interests are in place and exerting their influence in all fifty states on an ongoing basis every day. There is no reason to believe that they would not simply add spending to their current agendas.

          I believe you to be sincere and well-intentioned, Senator. I am not questioning that. My fear is that while your proposal is good for providing a rallying point for the troops, that it cannot deliver what it promises. If we spend time, effort and money on your proposal, that is time, effort and money unavailable for more effective actions, like electiing Conservatives to Congress.

          There’s an old saying that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There is no easy way out for American voters, no matter how much they might wish it to be so. Either they get up and get out, making any necessary sacrifices, or we will continue to have a U. S. Congress which doesn’t care that it has an 84% disapproval rating.

          Conservative American

        • Conservative American says:

          Senator Olafson:

          You see the problem as one of law and so your solution is to change the law. But the problem isn’t one of law. It’s a “people problem”. Look at all of the laws already on the books and yet we still have a fiscally irresponsible Congress content with an 84% disapproval rating.

          The problem isn’t with the cart, it’s with the horse pulling it.

          Conservative American

  5. Please visit http://www.RestoringFreedom.Org to learn more. You can also find more in depth information at http://www.GoldwaterInstitute.org/articleV

    Glenn Hughes – Chairman
    Restoring Freedom.Org
    ghughes@restoringfreedom.org – email
    480-225-9559 – cell

  6. Here are some important links containing documents you should read if you want to learn more about why our Founding Fathers wisely included Article V in OUR Constitution. If you believe that we should fear the Article V process, these are a must-read.

  7. “Conservative American” certainly has a point!

    All too often we think we’re electing conservative representatives…..and then they
    turn out to be typical Republicans!

    • Conservative American says:

      Events have proven that there has to be a solid Conservative track record. So much the better if a candidate has a history of standing on Conservative principles and refusing to yield to pressure and seduction. Those are the kind of people we need.

  8. Unfortunately CA has exposed himself, perhaps inadvertently, in a particularly Freudian way. I regret for his sake that he claims 100% agreements and such with his spouse. If it is true, I will pray for him and think about ways he vents his boredom, though readers here know how he does it. I hope it’s not true, and that his spouse is a robust and introspective person who provides the perspective, free will, growth and differentiation that everyone should have.

    But to the less important issue, the national debt, there are far too few people who care about the national debt to make an movement to change it sensible. Almost no one knows what it is or how it affects them.

  9. The threats to liberty today are no different from those that faced our Founders. Too much power is centralized into too few hands. The Original Constitution was elegantly crafted to decentralize and separate power so that the various centers of power would, while acting in their own self interest, protect the individual’s life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness.
    The NDRA has been crafted to create accountability and demonstrate consequences through the very process that will bring it into ratification. The Constitution created checks and balances to thwart the abuses of power. The Founders understood that mankind was imperfect, and that no individual or single group wielding power could be relied upon to avoid inflicting abuse upon those holding less power. This was not a theoretical reality, rather something that was well documented throughout the history of societies. Their solution was a Republic which relied upon the three pillars of Federal, State, and Public Power. Today we have become a transactional system which grants new power to the Federal in return for favors granted to the Organized Public. This symbiotic relationship has no regard for the founding purpose of our government.
    In order to restore freedom, we must first restore the Republic. The key to restoring the Republic is for the states to reclaim a portion of their voice in determining the Nation’s outcomes. The act of having the States bring an amendment action will have a sobering effect upon the Federal Government, and demonstrate to a generation of Americans that even the Federal Government can be brought to task, not as individuals, but as a governing body for destructive behavior. In personal terms it would be called an intervention.
    Moving on to the National Debt Relief Amendment (NDRA), the requirement that the Federal Government seek approval for new debt establishes a new paradigm. No longer can they simply fund cash flow at the last moment by creating their own crisis to avoid accountability for their vote. They will be forced to act just like any business when they need to borrow in order to fund their operations, and answer the same questions. Under the NDRA the Federal Government will have to produce a sound budget based on valid program costs. The luxury of gimmicks, games, and earmarks will be removed. The budget produced will have to be articulated in committee testimony across 50 state capitals with local citizens watching the proceedings. Questions will be asked, and any final approval will more closely represent the consensus of the majority of Americans. The courts will not be the final arbiters of enforcement either, that role will fall to the financial markets as only properly approved bonds will clear the market. The definitions of debt and majority approval are hard to redefine, and I am sure we can rely upon the convention delegates to remove any ambiguity that may linger.
    Of course the Federal Government can avoid all the aforementioned inconvenience in those years that it balances the budget, and even that reality will not be based on gimmicks, rather the very real discipline of “cash in” equals “cash out”.