For years, some conservatives have been pursuing a Convention of States — a never-used tool to amend the U.S. Constitution.
Article V of the Constitution says that if two-thirds of the state legislatures call for a convention, it can occur, and then three-fourths of the states must approve any amendment that emerges from the convention.
The idea has passed from seemingly ridiculous, because it’s so difficult, to possibly, just maybe realistic. Arizona’s Legislature approved a call for a convention this week. It could do so because convention opponent and former Senate President Andy Biggs is out of the way in Congress.Gov. Doug Ducey signed the resolution Thursday.
The idea has also drifted from the right to the left. A few people on the liberal side of the spectrum embrace it, even though it is being pushed by some wealthy libertarians who would like to restrict the power of the federal government.
“This is where you get a little bit of overlap, from the far left and far right,” Rep. Randy Friese, the Tucson Democrat who is assistant minority leader of the House, told me Thursday.
I attended a Democrats of Greater Tucson luncheon this week at which political scientist Marriah Star presented a liberal argument for a convention of states. Boiled down, he argued that such a convention is the only way to address intractable issues such as “plutocrats” controlling elected politicians and disenfranchisement of voters. “The Constitutional Convention is the only way we have,” he said. “All the other ways are blocked.”
Star received a lot of skepticism from the crowd, and I counted myself among the skeptics. The agenda of any such convention is likely to be driven by those who have passed the resolution, and those people are largely concerned with passing a balanced budget amendment, not ending plutocratic domination of politics.
Jeff Utsch, a local proponent of a convention, explained to me there are two main initiatives to call a convention. The one he favors, called a Compact for America, would send what’s essentially a prepackaged balanced-budget amendment to a convention, which would be limited to that purpose.
A convention of states without such a limited purpose could be opened up to any ideas, left or right. Many opponents of a convention, such as Biggs, see that as a major flaw. For me, that’s the best feature: Seeing what ideas can capture the imagination of delegates and be sent back to the states for passage.
That may be a high-risk approach, but there is the fail-safe of the requirement that three-fourths of states, or 38, pass any amendments.
Star listed at least 13 Democratic-controlled states that would be likely to block any unpopular conservative amendment. But as Friese noted, there’s no mandated time limit on state approvals of proposed constitutional amendments.
Nevada just approved the Equal Rights Amendment, originally passed by Congress in 1972. It was the 36th state to pass the amendment, out of 38 needed. Any amendment passed by a convention of states could presumably linger on similarly.