Article V of the U.S. Constitution
and the Amendments Convention
- Article V of the U.S. Constitution text
- Congressional Research Service Report on Article V - Current Developments
- Chronological History of Common Cause opposition to Free and Fair Election Legislation (as of May 2017)
- League of Women Voters position on Article V convention
- Talk by Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig (video)
- A Real Step to Fix Democracy: Lessig piece in The Atlantic, 5/30/2014
What happens when Congress itself is the problem in politics?
- Article V: 10 Facts to Rebut the Myth of a Runaway Convention
- Lawrence Lessig's Feb 2014 letter debunking 'Runaway Convention' fears
- Limited Convention, the DOJ report
- Congressional Research Service 2014 report: Article V Convention to
Propose Constitutional Amendments: Contemporary issues for Congress
Proposing Constitutional Amendments, handbook published by the pro-corporate American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC); Also see The United States of ALEC website and film
Article V provides two ways to propose an amendment
The framers took special care to ensure that no branch of government could ever attain unchecked power. They anticipated and prepared for the possibility that Congress might go off course and need correction by the people themselves. For that, they gave us Article V, which gives the people the right, through their state legislatures, to call for an Article V Convention (or, "Convention of the states") to propose amendments to the constitution. Article V is a core component of the constitution, meant to be used when our federal legislators no longer represent us, and that time is now.
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, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths 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....
Thus there are only two ways to amend our Constitution:
Proposal passed by Congress, then ratified by 3/4 of the states.
But Congress is funded by special interests, is universally recognized as institutionally corrupt, has an all-time record-low single-digit approval rating, and was not able to pass something as basic as the Disclose Act, which essentially says, "Please just tell us who's bribing you." So this way is now extremely unlikely.
Proposal passed by 2/3, then ratified by 3/4 of the state legislatures.
State legislators are much closer to their constituents and less dominated by big money. They can fix our broken democracy by calling for an Article V Convention. While this way is rightfully a heavy lift, it is probably the only way we can and must amend. Happily a massive and growing movement of dedicated activists across America is mobilizing the power needed to bring this about. See Our Progress and get involved.
Does the Constitution belong to Congress or the people?
The selling point that made ratification of our Constitution possible in 1791 was the promise that States would have ultimate authority over Congress in proposing and ratifying amendments. This "federalist" principle has broad appeal from right to left for: conservatives, tea partiers, libertarians, moderates, independents, liberals and progressives. Only by working across the political spectrum can We the People hope to win against wealthy entrenched special interests and enormously powerful corporations.
The Article V Convention process has been used often
Just the threat of an Article V Convention may be the most effective way to motivate Congress to directly propose meaningful amendments. Four times in history, Congress has proposed amendments (which were later ratified) only after state legislatures voted for an Article V Convention for each of these issues. In order to forestall a Convention, Congress then proposed these amendments directly. Ten amendments (now known as the Bill of Rights) were adopted in 1789 after New York and Virginia applied for a convention to draft a Bill of Rights. We won the 17th Amendment (for direct election of Senators) in 1913 when states were very close to the two-thirds needed to call for a Convention. Also, Congress proposed the 21st amendment (repeal of prohibition) and the 22nd amendment (term limits for the President) after several state legislatures had called for an Article V Convention for each of those issues.
Why no worries about a "Runaway Convention"
Some worry about a so-called "runaway convention" that might propose a wild, irresponsible amendment. First, an Article V Convention would have no more power to propose amendments than Congress already has. The requirement for ratification by three fourths of the states would clearly prevent any "runaway" amendments from being proposed or ratified. This has never been a problem in the hundreds of state constitutional conventions, to develop state constitutions, that have already been held in the U.S. It is possible to limit the convention to the issue of overturning Citizens United and corporate personhood. It is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a "Constitutional Convention," but actually it is an "Article V Convention" or "Convention of the states" who's purpose is limited to proposing amendments on a specific topic (as specified by the states).
- Letter from Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig
debunking the "runaway convention" myth.
- Read "10 Facts" below.
10 Facts to Rebut the Myth
of a Runaway Convention
- Article V does not authorize a constitutional convention; it authorizes a convention for proposing specific amendments.
- When the Founders drafted the U.S. Constitution in 1787, they specifically rejected language for Article V that would have allowed the states to later call for an open convention.
- Thirty eight (38) states must ratify any proposal from an amendments convention, requiring a broad consensus that makes sure an amendments convention cannot "runaway."
- The limited scope of an amendments convention is underscored by the fact that it specifically says amendments cannot alter the equal number of votes for each state in the U.S. Senate without the consent of the affected state. This establishes that an Article V convention couldn’t simply rewrite the entire Constitution. (See Limited Convention, the DOJ report.)
- The states define the agenda of an amendments convention through their applications for the convention and through the commission of delegates. Amendments conventions can be limited to specific topics.
- The Constitution was sold by the Founders to the ratifying states on the basis that they retained their ultimate authority over the federal government through their Article V amendment powers. James Madison in Federalist No. 43 specifically argued that states should use the power to correct errors in the Constitution. And Alexander Hamilton in the “final argument” of the Federalist Papers, in Federalist No. 85, said the Article V amendment process was the means by which the states would rein in an out-of-control federal government. One cannot take the Constitution seriously and contend that Article V was not meant to be used. It is a critical and “deal closing” element of the balance of power created by the Constitution.
- There is zero precedent that any convention of the states has ever "runaway" from its assigned agenda. There have been 12 interstate conventions in the history of our country. All of them stayed within their stated agenda. Even the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was not convened to "amend" the Articles of Confederation, but to "revise" and “alter” the Articles to establish an effective national government. This was fully consistent with the Articles of Confederation because the Articles authorized alterations – a term that had revolutionary significance because it echoed the language of the Declaration of Independence. The broad purpose of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was specifically mentioned in the call of Congress and in nearly all of the commissions for the delegates for each state. The 1787 convention did not runaway at all; it did what it was charged to do – like all interstate conventions preceding it.
- The procedures for conducting an amendments convention are similar to Congress’ long-established rulemaking powers. Constitutional text, language and custom make clear that Congress calls the convention, setting a time and location; states appoint delegates by way of resolutions and commissions (or general state law); delegates initially vote as states at the convention; and majority votes will decide what amendments are proposed for ratification. An amendments convention is simply an interstate task force.
- The limited scope of an amendments convention is similar to that of state ratification conventions that are also authorized in Article V, but no one worries about a ratification convention "running away" even though such a convention does make law.
- An amendments convention, because it only proposes amendments and does not make law, is not an effective vehicle for staging a government takeover.
See the source document prepared by Nick Dranias Director,
Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute.