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Pulling the Constitution's emergency cord

Article V of the Constitution provides a state-led way for “we the people,” working through our state legislatures, to propose amendments to the Constitution that can stop its systematic dismantling.

It provides that “The Congress ... on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments. ...” It is a constitutional “emergency cord provision” rapidly gaining momentum nationwide.

Unfortunately, polemics previously published here advance a cacophony of baseless and misleading arguments opposing an Article V convention. This commentary stands on the Jeffersonian principle that an enlightened citizenry is indispensable for proper functioning of our republic. Unlike arguments that rely on the tyranny of so-called expert opinion offered without rational proof, these arguments can be fact- checked.

Opponents label an Article V convention as a “constitutional convention.” While the label may contain a grain of truth, without clarification it is woefully, perhaps dangerously, inaccurate.

Numerous baseless beliefs and fear-mongering hobgoblins flow from such inaccuracy.

Political scientists describe three types of “constitutional conventions.” A “general constitutional convention” is one called to create the first constitution of a political unit or to replace an existing constitution. An “unlimited constitutional convention” is one called to revise an existing constitution to the extent necessary. Finally, a “limited constitutional convention” is one restricted to amending a current constitution within the scope of the convention’s call, the mandate establishing the convention.

Using the phrase “constitutional convention,” without necessary clarification, leads many to visualize a 1787-like “general constitutional convention” where everything is on the table, rather than the type actually mandated by the Constitution, a convention of the third kind.

A related question is, “Can the subject matter of an Article V Amending Convention be limited?” While opponents claim the answer is no, numerous authoritative sources say yes. For instance, the American Bar Association holds that, “... Congress has the power to establish procedures which would limit a convention’s authority to a specific subject matter where the legislatures of two-thirds of the states seek a convention limited to that subject.”

The Article V convention is a creature of the states. They alone define its scope by their applications. Congress can certainly assure that any amendments proposed are within the scope of the applications and, if not, decline to send them forward for ratification.

The “runaway convention” hobgoblin that continues to surface in these conversations is a scaremongering myth.

An Article V amending convention cannot change one word of the Constitution. It can only propose amendments.

To become part of the Constitution, any amendments proposed must be ratified by at least three-fourths of the states (38), a process identical to that applied to amendments originating in Congress.

The possibility that a convention of states could be hijacked by political fringe groups dedicated to imposition of an ideologically focused agenda to rewrite the Constitution, decimate the Bill of Rights, and destroy our liberties – in plain view of all the states, 38 of which would need to ratify their actions – is preposterous. Would Indiana join 37 other states to ratify amendments doing away with the Bill of Rights? Of course not. The Congressional Research Service, a creature of Congress, agrees and calls the “runaway convention” shenanigan impossible.

The works of nationally recognized constitutional scholar, professor Robert Natelson, thoroughly rebut the claim that the convention of 1787 was a runaway convention. Moreover, the call for it did not even originate in the Continental Congress that had no power to call a convention, but instead came from the Annapolis Convention of 1786 at a time when the fledgling and powerless government of the United States was on the verge of collapse.

The Convention of States Project does not seek a specific amendment.

It suggests a convention limited to proposing amendments that “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials.” Think balanced budget, regulation limits, term limits, fairer taxation, meaningful oversight and real accountability in a total package of restraints.

Both major parties are complicit in the constitutional problems our country faces today and it will take an alliance of patriots from all political persuasions to fix our broken government. An Article V Convention of States is perhaps the last, best hope of saving the republic. Patriots who want to know more are encouraged to visit www.​convention​ and join the movement.

Mark Alspaugh is Arkansas state director for the Convention of States Project. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.