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States prepare to use constitutional authority

Amendment process intended to overhaul a broken system


In recent months, several letters have been published in this space about the growing momentum behind a state-led effort to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution. As someone who believes in this effort, which is authorized under Article V of the Constitution, I wanted to offer my own perspective and explain why I have played a role in organizing the states to pursue it.

To this point in our nation’s history, all constitutional amendments have been proposed by Congress. However, the authors of the Constitution included the state-led amendment option for a reason. It is on equal footing with the Congress-led amendment option and was meant to serve as a check on the central government.

The Founders feared that without this provision, states could never be assured of protection from the threat to their sovereign rights by an overreaching federal government. In fact, the Constitution would not have passed had this critical state power not been inserted into the final draft.

Today, there is a sense shared by millions of Americans that we are at a moment in the life of our nation unlike any we’ve experienced before.

Many believe Washington is broken, with Congress either unable or unwilling to control and reform itself, regardless of which party is in power. States’ rights have been trampled almost to the point of extinction. And federal spending continues to grow, unabated, creating an unsustainable level of debt that threatens the livelihood and future of our children and grandchildren. No generation has ever dumped such a mountain of debt upon the next generation. Yet no solutions are coming from Washington anytime soon.

This is exactly the environment that calls for the states to exercise their right under Article V to call an amendment convention to deal with the root cause of these problems.

Some have claimed that this effort will inevitably lead to a runaway convention that would scrap the Constitution altogether. There are reasons why this nightmare scenario is not a true threat.

In Indiana, we have passed laws that provide a safeguard against this by firmly restricting what our delegates to such a convention may consider. Other states are pursuing similar laws. It’s also important to remember that the process outlined in Article V of the Constitution requires three-fourths of the states to ratify any amendment that is approved by such a convention. Any radical proposals wouldn’t clear this high bar.

Furthermore, the group of state legislators whom I’ve been involved with – The Assembly of State Legislatures – is focused on establishing consensus among the states for the rules and procedures that would be needed to conduct an orderly, effective convention of the states. This group met recently at the Indiana Statehouse with more than 100 state legislators from 30 states present. It was the first such gathering of the states in 227 years.

I believe the work this group is doing is vitally important to the larger effort of pursuing a state-led amendment convention. Only when firm rules and guidelines are established will a convention be able to take place in an effective manner, without the fear of it running away into unintended territory.

I have no illusions that it will be easy for states to successfully put together the first Article V amendment convention in history. But when I consider the gridlock and dysfunction that seem to grip Washington these days, I remain firm in my belief that the states must make every effort to use this constitutional tool they’ve been given. If the states don’t do something now, when will they? And who will?