Two Alabama state senators joined roughly 100 state legislators from 32 states at Mt. Vernon, Virginia this past weekend to discuss the ground rules of a potential convention of the states to amend the U.S. Constitution.
The idea has gained steam in the nationwide conservative grassroots community this year after conservative talk show host Mark Levin advocated for a states-led convention in his book The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic.
Article V of the U.S. Constitution says that a convention of the states can be convened if two-thirds of the state legislatures (34) approve an application for the convention to occur.
By design, that’s a high bar to clear. And the bar gets even higher when it comes to actually passing a constitutional amendment.
Each state would then choose delegates to represent them at the convention, but each state would only get one vote on proposed amendments. It takes an affirmative vote from three-fourths (38) of the states to actually amend the constitution.
In short, the convention of the states is widely viewed as a last-ditch effort to push back against an overreaching federal government. Potential amendments being kicked around include term limits on federal lawmakers and caps on taxation and spending.
But the main work at the Mount Vernon Assembly this past weekend focused not on actual amendments, but on what rules would be followed should such a convention ever be convened.
A Resolution of the Mount Vernon Assembly to prepare to write the rules for an Amendment Convention of the States was passed by voice vote subject to additional language.
“We discussed the reality that the biggest threat to America is an irresponsible Federal Government,” Alabama State Senator Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, told Yellowhammer. “Checks that need to be put on the Federal Government have not been accomplished and based on current activity appear not to be likely… 32 (states) participated in the Mount Vernon Assembly, to prepare rules and form committees within a strict framework… to discuss and build support for a possible amendment convention of the States.”
The Assembly’s focus on a “strict framework” stems from the fact that Article V leaves some ambiguity in the process, leading to some concerns that a convention of the states would be an unruly affair. Because of the unknowns, there is a healthy amount of skepticism when it comes to convening the states.
“In the course of our work advising state and federal lawmakers and conservative allies across the country, we have been giving this issue close attention and study,” said Dr. Matthew Spalding on the Heritage Foundation. “The lack of precedent, extensive unknowns, and considerable risks of an Article V amendments convention should bring sober pause to advocates of legitimate constitutional reform contemplating this avenue.”
Sen. Pittman said that several checks would have to be put in place to ease concerns over a “runaway” convention.
“We’re just meeting to put some rules and procedures in place, but this would be very structured,” he said. “The only way I’d support it is if it was a specific issue convention.”
Several resolutions would also have to be passed by the Alabama legislature dealing with the Alabama delegation to a convention, including a provision that voids any vote cast by an Alabama delegate that is outside the instructions of the Alabama legislature that sent them.
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, also attended the Mt. Vernon Assembly, but was not immediately available for comment.
Excellent meeting today at Mount Vernon Assembly regarding US Constitution process for changes under Art V. pic.twitter.com/fGFQk5oFaV
— Senator Arthur Orr (@SenatorAOrr) December 7, 2013
Yellowhammer will have more on the Mt. Vernon Assembly and related efforts soon.
But what do you think? Is a convention of the states a good idea? Is it needed? What amendments would you like to see?
Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims