After four sweltering summer months of heated debate, 38 delegates signed the United States Constitution in 1787. It was an extraordinary achievement that sought to enable checks and balances aimed at preventing a bloody revolution from becoming the necessary measure to abolish tyranny.
The original draft didn’t alleviate all fears, however, and many voiced their concerns openly.
Col. George Mason feared that the national government would one day ultimately fall into a tyrannical aristocracy, and so he argued that the rights of the people needed to be secure against potential corruption at the national level. The solution the framers used to address this concern can be found in Article V, which gives state legislators the authority to call a convention that bypasses federal legislators to amend the constitution – giving “the People” the opportunity to make laws aimed at reining in the power of the federal government.
Over the past few years, 28 states have called for an Article V Convention of the States, leaving only 6 states remaining for the process to initiate – a first in United States history. North Dakota was early in the process, becoming the 10th state to join the convention movement in 2015.
“Keep in mind that the United States as a concept had yet to be fully integrated when the Article V process was included. The framers of the constitution wanted to develop a secondary method outside of elected officials to amend the constitution, and they were generally committed to a path that provided citizens a right to do that,” said Dr. Steven Doherty, chair of department of social science at Dickinson State University. “What a convention does is essentially take the decision away from elected officials and place it back in the hands of the states, who will incorporate citizens into the process to make amendments.”
Reps. Jim Kasper, Rick Becker, Al Carlson, Craig Headland, Kim Koppelman, Scott Louser and Dan Ruby, as well as and Sens. Kelly Armstrong, Jonathan Casper, David Hogue, Nicole Poolman and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner were instrumental in leading the debate and discussion on the subject.
“My main concern was to force the federal government to balance the budget,” Wardner said. “We had people come from all over the United States to North Dakota and testify against that bill. There are those of us that think that think we need to get the budget under control and the other side thinks that we are going to have a runaway convention. That we aren’t going to just balance the budget and that it’ll get into other things, so they fought it.”
How the Convention of the States process works, according to Article V of the U.S. Constitution:
Citizens request their state legislators pass an application calling for a convention of the states. The application needs only a simple majority in the states to pass.
Congress shall, by law, call a convention of the States upon retrieval of applications from 2/3 of the State Legislators - or 34 states.
Once called, delegates chosen by the legislators of the states attend the convention with each state holding a single vote at the convention, regardless of population or size.
Amendments are then proposed, debated and voted on.
A ratification takes place where each of the proposed amendments are voted on by the citizenry of the states, and should 3/4 of the states - 38 states total - ratify the amendment, it becomes a part of the U.S. Constitution.
Amendments being discussed for the potential convention:
Balanced federal budget requiring the federal government spend less than, or equal to, its annual income.
Fiscal restraints on the federal government preventing expenditures that fail to demonstrate a fiscal conservative nature, or adequate financial return.
Limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government by promoting state rights.
Regulation of election campaign donations and expenditures by removing businesses from contributing to elections.
Limiting the terms of office of federal officials, including members of Congress. Moving back to the concept of the citizen politician.
Since its ratification, the constitution of the United States has been amended 27 times, with all amendments originating in Congress and subsequently sent to the states for ratification.
“An amendment to the constitution without going through the traditional, most likely format, takes it back to the grassroots and reflects a concern with elected officials’ ability to get the job done,” Doherty said.
Many have cited fear with the prospect of a runaway convention, which would entail delegates haphazardly throwing amendments into the constitution and removing rights in one fell swoop.
“If the system is altered too quickly, my concern is that it will lose its meaning and start to be dysfunctional,” Doherty said.
With a convention, the people have an overriding focus on holding Congress, the President and the federal government as a whole accountable for the decisions they make.
Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, Maryland and Alaska have applied for the convention of the states.
For more information on the Convention of the States, visit conventionofstates.com.