As the rollout of legislation for the 2015 session begins, one item may truly be of national concern. Delegates Scott Lingamfelter and Lee Ware have called for a Constitutional Convention to amend the United States Constitution. Specifically citing massive Federal debt, unfunded Federal government mandates, and the lack of enforcement of the 10th Amendment by the courts, Lingamfelter and Ware are taking action to fix things. The two good delegates are asking the Virginia General Assembly to invoke Virginia’s rights under Article V of the United States Constitution, which states:
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.
The way it works if the legislatures of two thirds of the 50 states, or at least 34 states, petition the U.S. Congress then Congress must call a convention. Once the convention begins, the participating states may propose amendments to the Constitution. The proposed amendments would then be sent back to the States for approval, and if 3/4 of the states, or at least 38 states, approve the amendment, the proposed amendments would become part of the United States Constitution. The states may approve with a simple majority vote of either their respective state legislatures or a state constitutional conventions, with the US Congress choosing whether it would be conventions or legislatures that approve. Notably no action by either state or federal executive branches is required.
Is it possible that a Constitutional Convention could be called? Well, state legislatures across the country are more conservative today than at any point since the 1920’s, when constitutional amendments were all the rage. Currently Republicans have majority control of the entire state legislature in 30 states, plus Nebraska – which is highly Republican but technically has a non-partisan legislature. So, really, 31 states are Republican. Eight states have split legislatures, meaning one party has control of each chamber. In eleven states Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature. The magic number is 34, so if all the Republican states and just three of the split states passed measures similar to the Delegates Lingamfelter’s and Ware’s bill, then a Constitutional Convention could occur. Are there three split states that might vote that way? The most likely would be Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, and New Mexico which all have some conservative tendencies, especially on fiscal matters. Colorado could as well if recent trends go… so the short answer is it is possible if the political trend carried through the nation.
If such a convention proposed amendments, could they actually be ratified? Let’s assume the amendment is fairly palatable… a simple balanced budget amendment with a clause that allowed some time to bring things under control. Or possibly reasonable term limits for Congress. Assuming that the 11 Democratic states would balk, and the 31 Republican states would pass, you would need seven of the eight split states to agree. The only genuinely liberal state with split chambers right now is New York, so it is possible. And really, what state legislature wouldn’t like term limits on federal positions? That just provides them opportunity for promotion. Before we dismiss Lingamfelter and Ware’s effort here as purely symbolic, we can see in the mechanics that a real movement could actually produce a result. A tall order? Yes. Impossible… no.