One hot topic in Iowa’s Legislature this week has been the Convention of States. This has been the focus of many conversations among legislators, staff, and lobbyists as we have weighed the pros and cons within the local and national political landscapes.
What is an Article V Convention and how would it happen?
A “Convention of States” refers to the measure in Article V (5) of the U.S. Constitution. This article provides two methods for amending (adding to, changing) the constitution of the United States:
1) “Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments…"
2) “Congress, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a convention for proposing amendments.”
This means that the U.S. Congress can propose a constitutional amendment by a two-thirds vote of both Houses, or a “Convention of States” can be called to propose amendments, after two-thirds of the state legislatures have voted to “apply” for the Convention.
Article V also states that any amendments proposed must be ratified by three-fourths of the states in the union.
What does Iowa’s resolution do?
HJR (House Joint Resolution) 7 and SJR (Senate Joint Resolution) 7 constitute Iowa’s application to the U.S. Congress, urging them to call an Article V Convention of States. It also outlines Iowa’s priorities for the Convention, which include: “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for federal officials and for members of Congress.” The idea is that these statements would determine what Iowa’s delegate to the proposed Convention would be able to propose or vote in favor of.
What do supporters of the Convention say?
Those in favor of calling an Article V Convention say that it is the only way to rein in the bureaucratic power of the federal government. “The truth is, the Washington establishment will never, ever limit its own power. We just can’t rely on the politicians who got us into this mess to get us out of it,” the Convention of States Action argues. Supporters say a Convention is the only way we will be able to impose any type of limits on the federal government, and that this power should be in the hands of the states. They say that an outside political force, in this case the Convention, must intervene to stop Congress from continuing to make poor decisions for our country.
What do those who disagree with calling a Convention say?
Opponents of the Convention have a number of concerns, mainly questions surrounding who would be elected to the Convention and what decisions could be made. These folks state that opening the Constitution to possible amendments is like opening Pandora’s box: where does it stop? They say the Convention would likely be a “runaway” and change much more than was ever intended or beneficial. Every state legislature, as well as the entire system of the federal government is built on the Constitution, and changing it would cause more harm than good, they say.
We all agree, there’s a problem to be solved.
Presently, 19 states have voted on and submitted an application to Congress for an Article V Convention, with almost identical wording to Iowa’s Resolution. 34 total states would need to apply to Congress for a Convention to be called. There’s no denying that there are huge problems with our federal government’s overreach and abuse of power, but is calling a Convention the way to solve them? The Iowa Legislature’s verdict on this issue remains to be seen.
My Story - COS at the Iowa State Fair:
With a corn dog in one hand and a bucket of gooey Barksdale State Fair cookies in the other, the seemingly simple question was posed to me as I strolled along the hundreds of booths in the Varied Industries Building relishing the cool air and filling my bag with free goodies from the vendor tables.
It was a simple question. One with a simple answer. So I thought.
“Do you think we need to reign in federal government?” “Well, yes, of course! Who wouldn’t say that?!” I exclaimed. The Iowa State Fair following a year of COVID lockdowns truly showcased an example of government overreach. “Sign this petition so that we can hold a convention of states and address the problem of the federal government,” said the kind lady. Wow, an opportunity to actually DO something about our government? You bet! I quickly penned my name to the petition and began to pepper the dedicated volunteer with some questions. I didn’t get very far into the questions before her looks over my shoulder told me that the purpose of the booth was to get signatures, not have a lengthy discussion with a fairgoer. Rejoining the streaming crowd flowing by, I moved on to the next booth to look for more free ink pens.
Such was my introduction to a Convention of States.
Historically, the 27 amendments to the Constitution, including the first ten that we call the Bill of Rights, were proposed and passed by Congress and then sent to the states for ratification. But never in our 200+ year American history since has a convention been used to propose amendments.
In my short state fair experience, the nice lady told me that a convention could be used to reign in a tyrannical government that has overstepped its limitations. Makes sense, upon first discovery, that is. If only it were that simple. After a little bit of research, it’s arguably apparent that the Framers of the Constitution created Article V not to be used to reign in an out-of-control government but rather, to correct defects or errors where the newly constructed Constitution had fallen short of protecting the God-given rights and individual liberty of the people. The Bill of Rights, for example, was a correction of a defect in the constitution. Do you see the difference?
The intent of an Article V Convention was never to use such a procedure as an attempt to reign in government due to a lack of adherence to the Constitution. It was to correct defects in the already established Constitution. An important distinction.
Not only have I found it paramount to clearly understand the original intent of an Article V convention, but also to examine if an Article V convention is a false solution that merely addresses symptoms rather than actual problems - much like a visit to the doctor. Hordes of medications have been prescribed to fix only symptoms resulting from deeper problems such as high stress levels, poor eating habits and a lack of exercise. If healthy living habits were followed through by patients, many of the symptoms being treated would merely disappear. In the case of our great Constitution, why propose new amendments to the Constitution (resulting in treatment of only symptoms) when we can’t seem to follow the one we have right now (akin to ignoring healthy living habits.)
There are three main “symptoms” if you will, that supporters of a Con Con (Constitutional Convention) want to solve through an Article V convention. The top priority for a convention has been stated for the express purpose of imposing fiscal restraints on the federal government. Secondly, a convention has been promoted as a means to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government. Most certainly a worthy and notable cause but is this the only method to do so? Lastly, a convention is being demanded to institute term limits for Congress.
For the sake of brevity, I will not dive in to the other possible ways we could address these issues but I do hope that we are able to agree that there is more than one possible solution to the problems that a convention would attempt to address.
It has been said that opening up the constitution for amendments is like opening up a pandora’s box. Many questions swirl around who the delegates will be, how will they be chosen, who determines the agenda and much more.
This is by no means a comprehensive discussion of the complex aspects of a Convention of States, only a short expression of my own personal walk through it. If you would like more resources as you do your personal research on a Convention of States, please reach out to me!