One lesson of living in a representative democracy is that we can do the right thing for the right reason, but in the wrong way. The Arizona State Legislature this session passed House Bill 2226 calling for a Constitutional Convention under Article V and it was signed by Gov. Doug Ducey on March 30. This demonstrates that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” and that elections make a huge difference.
When former state Senator Andy Biggs was Senate President, he blocked efforts by fellow Republicans to pass an Article V resolution. Now, Biggs is a member of Congress and the new President of the Senate, Sen. Steve Yarbrough, apparently supports an Article V resolution.
An Article V resolution must follow three key principles for organizing a constitutional convention.
First, a convention must have delegates who represent the diversity of our country, including gender, race, religion, education, economic class and geography. To get closer to the ratio of one representative for every 30,000 citizens required by the United States Constitution, a convention must have at least 10,000 delegates to represent 325 million people.
Second, a convention must contain delegates who do not have a political stake in the outcome. The delegates must be ordinary citizens who do not hold elected or appointed public offices.
Third, a convention must not start with a predetermined set of amendments.
The Article V resolution passed by the Arizona Legislature violates these principles. HB 2226 calls for the federal government to hold a Constitutional Convention to consider only a balanced budget amendment and it restricts each state to three delegates. It is impossible for a Constitutional Convention to reflect our country’s diversity with 150 delegates. Thirty more states need to pass this resolution for a convention to happen.
HR 2013 and HR 2022 both need only four more states, after Arizona, to start a convention, but they also restrict the number of delegates per state to three. Worst of all, they require delegates to be current members of state legislatures.
Under Article V, the only power states have is to force Congress to organize a convention. They do not have power to make rules for a convention.
I gave a presentation in late March to the Democrats of Greater Tucson to argue for a specific sequence of steps for organizing a Constitutional Convention.
Congress should follow these steps for a Constitutional Convention to be legitimate.
A convention cannot happen before the 2020 Census. Using Census data, Congress should create a committee of mathematicians, statisticians and demographers charged with creating a formula for delegate selection that states must follow. This committee will be non-partisan because math, statistics and demography are non-partisan. Indeed, the committee need not even have American citizens on it. This committee will be the 21st Century’s version of the Manhattan Project, designing ideal delegates for a Constitutional Convention.
The convention site should seclude the delegates, just like the delegates to the original 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. The delegates must be protected from outside coercion or influence. Maybe the United States military could put them on a base, or delegates could consider amendments while vacationing at a resort.
Finally, it is essential for the delegates to produce many amendments, not just one or two. It is much harder for an organized group of citizens to stop many amendments than to stop one or two.
HB 2226 would push our country into a Constitutional Convention that represents only Republicans, producing amendments that reflect only conservative ideology. A Constitutional Convention desperately needs to happen, but it’s a long-term project, not a quick fix. It will likely take a decade to select a convention site and delegates. It will likely take another decade for 38 states to approve or reject all the amendments. For a national project of this magnitude and importance, we must do everything the right way.