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Convention of States: A Terminally Flawed Idea

David Iverson - March 2, 2023

There is perhaps no more dangerous bill in any legislature than a convention of states resolution.  In each state legislature that has not passed such a bill, a resolution to call for a constitutional convention is introduced each year.  The theory being, eventually the right combination of legislators will be elected to finally pass it.  To ensure this happens, a group called Convention of States Action spends hundreds of thousands of dollars, in some states millions, in state elections.  Convention of States Action is a well-funded, well organized and well connected group comprised of activists, former politicians, media elites and misguided intellectuals. 

A convention of states is a theory predicated on one partial sentence contained in Article V of the Constitution.  That being, “…on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments…”  That is the only thing written in any of our founding documents concerning the calling of a Constitutional Convention.  Nearly every other clause in the Constitution was discussed in the Federalist Papers except that one. 

 Monday in a 21-41 vote the Wyoming House of Representatives killed SJ0011, the Convention of States Resolution.  Though the bill’s sponsor Rep Daniel Singh (R-Laramie County) gave an impassioned opening speech citing our founder’s views on the protection of liberty, the measure was doomed from the beginning.  

Senior Wyoming legislators pointed out the many flaws in the idea of a convention of states.  Clarence Styvar (R-Laramie County) paraphrased James Madison’s warning when he said, “those who secretly wish to get rid of our Constitution should push for a convention under the pretext of getting amendments.”  Several of Madison’s contemporaries wanted a convention to add the Bill of Rights to the Constitution.  Madison wisely refused and instead insisted that they be added in appendix form.

 Rep Clark Stith (R-Sweetwater County), who doesn’t normally vote with conservative legislators, drew the chamber’s attention back to Article V: “…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 only thing a convention can’t do is outlaw slavery and deprive states of their senators.  Beyond that, a convention of states could make any changes to the Constitution it desires.  In other words, it doesn’t matter what topics individual states agree to discuss, once the convention convenes, everything in the Constitution, except the two mentioned items, is open to discussion.

Convention of States Action claims that only resolutions pertaining to the same subject matter count towards the constitutionally mandated 34 states for Congress to call a convention.  Even though it isn’t true, they repeatedly tell their supporters that a convention could be effectually muzzled to act as the states direct.  The very same authors they cite as proof of this are the very ones that claim any resolution, regardless of subject matter, could be used to reach the 2/3 threshold.  (see “Counting to Two-Thirds” by Robert Natelson)

  Upon SJ0011’s defeat, the bill’s co-sponsor said, “Our legislature will look quite different in 6 years. My hope was to have us on the list so that by the time there was a convention, we would have a solid conservative delegation with the character to physically intervene in a runaway convention. The body did not agree with my sentiment and found that the risk involved was too great, and I respect our decision.” 

Rep Mark Jennings (R-Sheridan County) often says that our entire society suffers from a lack of integrity and many people who suffer from that malady get elected.  Our founders were men of profound learning, faith and were of the highest caliber.  Thank God we had them writing our Constitution.  Our current political reality being what it is makes the terminally flawed idea of a Convention of States even more dangerous.  It should be avoided at all costs.