The LWV of Falls Church is joining Leagues from across the nation to take part in the national League study of Key Structures of Democracy. 

Adopted at the 2014 LWVUS Convention, this involves the study and arriving at a national consensus about the most consequential questions facing our democracy today:  1) The process of amending the U.S. Constitution; 
2) Money in Politics Review -- Updating the League's position on campaign finance for the purpose of addressing the lack of member understanding and agreement as to whether financing a political campaign is protected speech under the First Amendment.

Our participation in these studies and in arriving at a consensus is our opportunity to impact the resulting national League's positions, and indeed shape the national conversation on these questions vital to our democracy.

This is Part 2 of a 3-part Fact Sheet to help you participate in the national League's Consensus Study on the Process of Amending the Constitution.

Part 3 will be emailed in a few days.

Dates to remember:

Sunday, Nov. 8:

 LWVFC Informational meeting on Constitutional Amendment Study 
FC Community Center 

Sunday, Nov. 15 
 LWVFC Consensus meeting on Constitutional Amendment Study 
 FC Community Center 


Here's what Article V of the U.S. Constitution says about amending the Constitution:

" 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; . . ."

So Article V provides two ways of proposing amendments to the nation's fundamental charter.  Congress, by a two-thirds vote of both chambers, may propose constitutional amendments to the states for ratification.  OR, the legislatures of two-thirds of the states (34 at present) may ask Congress to call a convention to propose amendments to the Constitution; this is commonly called an Article V Convention.  Amendments proposed by either method must be ratified by three-fourths of the states, 38 at present.

League Background

Perhaps it goes without saying that the League of Women Voters believes it is right and permissible to amend the Constitution of the United States when circumstances demand. The League was born from the successful, decades-long effort to pass the 19th Amendment.

The question for us today is:  what are the shared values and beliefs within the League - what consensus do we have - regarding the circumstances that might allow or compel the League to endorse a constitutional amendment or an Article V Convention?

If we do find that we have consensus on some of the principles that should guide us, mobilizing the organization to advocacy for or against a particular amendment would fall under the established protocol by which the League determines its advocacy agenda

Part II
Aspects of an Article V Constitutional Convention

Under Article V, legislatures of two-thirds of the states (34 at present) may ask Congress to call a convention to propose amendments to the Constitution.  Amendments proposed by this method must be ratified by three-fourths of the states, 38 at present.

Part II considers whether the League would support such a convention, and if so, under what circumstances.

An Article V Convention, has never been successfully invoked, although the 17th Amendment, establishing the popular election of Senators, was arguably the result of the "prodding effect" of concerted action by states calling for an Article V Convention, which put pressure on Congress to propose the amendment. The campaign for an amendment grew out of public opinion that state legislatures were increasingly influenced by corporate and monopoly interests in their election of Senators and that the Senators were similarly influenced. At the time the Senate joined the House in proposing what became the 17th Amendment, 27 states had called for an Article V Convention on the subject, with 31 states needed to reach the threshold.

Foundation Readings

According to LWVUS, the following two papers are the most important to read in preparation for Part II:

"The Article V Convention to Propose Constitutional Amendments: Contemporary Issues for Congress," Thomas H. Neale, Congressional Research Service Report R42589, http://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42589.pdf

"The Article V Convention for Proposing Constitutional Amendments: Historical Perspectives," Thomas H. Neale, Congressional Research Service Report R42592,  http://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42592.pdf

Please note that the author of these papers, Thomas Neale, will be our keynote speaker for our Sunday, Nov. 8, LWVFC Informational meeting on Constitutional Amendment Study, FC Community Center 3:00-4:30p.m.

Some key points from these papers:

"Reviewing the history of the Article V Convention alternative, the record of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 clearly demonstrated the founders' original intent. During the convention, they agreed that a second mode of amendment was needed to balance the grant of amendatory power to Congress. This method, clearly identified in Article V as co-equal to congressional proposal of amendments, empowered the people, acting through their state legislatures, to summon a convention that would have equal authority to propose an amendment or amendments, which would then be presented to the states for ratification."

"Within the past decade, interest in the Article V Convention process has reawakened: several policy advocacy organizations have publicized the Article V Convention option, particularly as an alternative to what they portray as a legislative and policy deadlock at the federal level."

"To sum up the available record indicating the founders' original intent, it appears that they crafted Article V very much in the spirit of checks and balances, and separation of powers, that permeates the Constitution. During the convention, they agreed that a second mode of amendment was needed to balance the grant of amendatory power to Congress. This method, clearly identified in Article V as co-equal to congressional proposal, empowers the people, acting through their state legislatures, to summon a convention that would have equal authority to propose an amendment or amendments, which are then proposed to the states for ratification. In Federalist 51, James Madison famously wrote, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary.... In framing a government which is to be to be administered by men over men the great difficulty is this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." It appears that this principle was not far from their minds as they drafted Article V, because the convention provided an additional check on both methods of proposing amendments by requiring that all proposed amendments be approved by the legislatures of, or ad hoc conventions in, three-fourths of the several states, and further empowered Congress to select which mode of ratification it preferred."

"[W]hile the Constitution is silent on the mechanics of an Article V Convention, Congress has historically laid claim to broad responsibilities in connection with a convention, including receiving, judging, and recording state applications; establishing procedures to summon a convention; setting the amount of time allotted to its deliberations, determining the number and selection process of its delegates; setting internal convention procedures, and providing arrangement for the formal transmission of any proposed amendments to the states." 

"With some notable exceptions, most commentators hold that state applications for a convention must address the same issue in order to be counted toward the two-thirds threshold established by the Constitution, but they need not be identical."

"As with so many other aspects of the Article V Convention issue, opinion is divided. Some constitutional scholars hold that the application process is only preliminary, and that states may withdraw their applications without prejudice, so long as the two-thirds threshold has not been crossed. Others assert that an application carries the same weight as a state's ratification of a constitutional amendment, which cannot be rescinded. Many of the constitutional convention procedures bills introduced in Congress from the 1970s through the 1990s authorized states to rescind their applications, so long as the constitutional threshold had not been met. It should be noted, however, that in the past, Congress refused to accept rescissions of state ratifications of the 14th Amendment, apparently reflecting the viewpoint cited above. These refusals were ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court, which determined in Coleman v. Miller that rescission fell under the "political question" rule, and that Congress, therefore, possessed "the ultimate authority" to set rules for "the promulgation of the adoption of the amendment."

"A broad range of constitutional scholars holds that a convention may, in fact, be limited to a specific area or areas contained in state applications, or indeed, that it must be so limited. A fundamental assumption of this viewpoint is that the Framers did not contemplate a wholesale or large-scale revision of the Constitution when they drafted Article V. Senator Sam Ervin, a champion of advance congressional planning for a convention, wrote that, "... there is strong evidence that what the members of the convention were concerned with ... was the power to make specific amendments.... [The] [p]rovision in article V for two exceptions to the amendment power underlines the notion that the convention anticipated a specific amendment or amendments rather than general revision.

"One commentator, championing the states' authority in this question, noted that the founders' intention in establishing the state petition device was to provide a check against a Congress that had declined to propose an amendment or amendments that commanded widespread support, suggesting that a convention limited by the subject area of state applications was constitutional, but that a convention could not be limited by Congress: 
'... Congress may not impose its will on the convention.... the purpose of the Convention Clause is to allow the States to circumvent a recalcitrant Congress. The convention Clause, therefore, must allow the States to limit a convention in order to accomplish this purpose.' 

"According to this view, the states should decide whether a convention would be open and general, or limited, depending on the actions of the several legislatures."

"Fear of a runaway Article V Convention has been a recurring theme over many decades. What, in fact, is a "runaway convention?" It is generally defined as one that was summoned to consider a limited agenda, but moved beyond its original mandate to consider policy questions and potential amendments not contemplated in the applications of the state legislatures or in the congressional summons. . . . It is, as another scholar noted, the subject of "age old fear." "Opponents suggest that a runaway convention, driven by 'political fringe groups' might revisit a wide range of constitutional provisions." Proposals to alter parts of the Bill of Rights, in particular, seem to be singled out as being the most serious challenge to the Constitution by a runaway convention."

"These concerns, have, however, been characterized as overstated and alarmist. Critics note that the viewpoint elaborated above assumes an Article V Convention would be ideologically monolithic and dominated by a disciplined coalition dedicated to the imposition of an ideologically focused agenda."

"In its 1984 report on S. 119 (98th Congress), the "Constitutional Convention Implementation Act," the Senate Judiciary Committee argued that any Article V Convention would be more like Congress: broad, inclusive, and essentially moderate. Here, the report echoed Madison's assurance that the "size and variety" of the nation serve as a deterrent to "faction." Finally, the report noted that the founders did not provide unchecked power to the Article V Convention: every amendment proposed would be subject to the same stringent conditions faced by amendments proposed by Congress: "... the notion of a 'runaway' convention, succeeding in amending the Constitution in a manner opposed by the American people, is not merely remote, it is impossible." To this judgment may be added the fact that even a runaway convention's proposed amendment or amendments would be subject to approval by the legislatures or conventions of three-fourths of the states before being incorporated as part of the Constitution."

Here are the Consensus Questions posed in Part II:

Part II: Aspects of an Article V Constitutional Convention

2. What conditions should be in place for an Article V Constitutional Convention initiated by the states?

a) The Convention must be transparent and not conducted in secret. 
Agree Disagree No consensus 

b) Representation at the Convention must be based on population rather than one state, one vote. 
Agree Disagree No consensus 

c) State delegates must be elected rather than appointed. 
Agree Disagree No consensus 

d) Voting at the Convention must be by delegate, not by state. 
Agree Disagree No consensus 

e) The Convention must be limited to a specific topic. 
Agree Disagree No consensus 

f) Only state resolutions on a single topic count when determining if a Convention must be called. 
Agree Disagree No consensus 

g) The validity of state "calls" for an Article V Constitutional Convention must be determined by the most recent action of the state. If a state has enacted a rescission of its call, that rescission should be respected by Congress.
Agree Disagree No consensus 

3. Should the League oppose an Article V Constitutional Convention to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution because of unresolved questions about the powers and processes of such a convention?
Should Should notNo consensus 

Some material was obtained from LWVUS Constitutional Amendment Study Guide available here .

Contact: Bob Crowe, Co-Chair Programs, LWVFC


Election Day:
Tuesday, Nov. 3

About Us

The League of Women Voters Falls Church is a non-partisan organization that serves the citizens of Falls Church City through encouraging informed and active participation in government, working to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influencing public policy through education and advocacy.

A Voice for Citizens and a Force for Change in the United States.