A constitutional convention would do more good than harm

Author: sarahwornow7 | Last modified: Jan. 19, 2018, 5 p.m.


PRO (5 arguments)

We define a “constitutional convention” on both the Federal and State level - holding conventions so that the Federal Constitution can be amended and a State’s Constitution can be amended.

1. Claim: Article V of the Constitution is there for a good reason.
Warrant:

The Founders thought about every provision in the Constitution. They added the Constitutional Convention as a way for the states to circumvent Congress if Congress is not representing the people. Article V of our Constitution lays out TWO ways to amend the Constitution. One way is to originate an Amendment in Congress. Since the ratification of our Constitution, this has resulted in 27 amendments which are then sent to the states for approval. Once three-quarters of the individual states ratify an amendment, it becomes the law. The second method has never been used. It involves petitions from at least 34 states to call a Constitutional Convention, where one or several amendments are proposed. The amendments are then sent on to all of the states, where 38 states are needed for ratification. This method cuts out the need for Congress to act, and serves as a “check” on Congressional power, by forcing changes that the people want but Congress for whatever reason, fails to acknowledge. A situation like this doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.  For example, in the early 1900s, the public wanted Senators to be elected directly by the people, instead of by the state legislatures.  The public believed the election process was corrupt and they wanted to directly vote for their senators.  The Senators, having been elected by the corrupt system, wouldn’t vote for a Constitutional amendment to change the way senators were elected, since they benefitted from this system. The Senators who were elected by the old system, wanted to keep that old system. So the states began collecting votes to call an Article 5 Constitutional Convention.  When the states were only two votes away, Congress suddenly acted on this issue. The result was that Congress settled the issue by proposing the 17th Amendment, which allowed for the direct election of Senators.  However, if the Constitutional Convention were not threatened to convene, the 17th Amendment would never have been proposed, and we wouldn’t be able to vote directly for our Senators. Without the pressure of calling a Constitutional Convention, our country would have kept this corrupt election system for the last 100 years.

Impact:

The Constitutional Convention serves an important purpose, just as the Founders intended.  It is a check on the power of Congress by the States.

Sources:

Constitutioncenter.org

2. Claim: The calls for a Constitutional Convention today are for a good cause.
Warrant:

Our government is in debt and special interests keep spending money that we don’t have. 

The US is almost $20 trillion in debt.  The people want a  balanced budget to rein in this outrageous and unending spending. The current calls by Senator Marco Rubio and Texas Governor Greg Abbot are for calling a Constitutional Convention to add a balanced budget requirement to the Constitution.  This is because the Congress, answering to special interests in their districts, agrees to budgets every year that continue to add to our tremendous debt.  This is no fringe, unrealistic movement.The calls for a balanced budget were successful in the 1990s under President Bill Clinton. But this was only because in the 1980s, as in 1912, the states came close to having enough votes to call a convention.  This pressured Congress to act and in the 1990s Congress came one senate vote away from passing a balanced budget amendment. The congressional mobilization is said to have placed political pressure on Bill Clinton to balance the federal budget.

Impact:

Thus, these are two examples of how the threat of a Constitutional Convention is enough to make Congress act in the interests of the people, over their own interests, which is obviously a good thing!

Sources:

US Treasury Department website; USA Today newspaper; In These Times, a  political website

3. Claim: Since our country’s founding, states have had Constitutional Conventions to amend their state Constitutions with good results.
Warrant:

A Constitutional Convention within a state can lead to positive change that the people of that state want. A state constitutional convention is a gathering of elected delegates who propose revisions and amendments to a state constitution. 233 constitutional conventions to deliberate on state-level constitutions have been held in the United States.  44 states have rules that govern how, in their state, a constitutional convention can be called. And in 14 states, the question of whether to hold a state constitutional convention is automatically referred to a statewide ballot without any requirement for a vote of the state legislature to place the question on the ballot. Thus, the State Constitutions value the right of citizens to call a state Constitutional Convention as so important, that they put it on the ballot even if no citizen has requested it! The willingness of states to make changes through Constitutional Conventions has led to better laws in state constitutions than in our Federal Constitution.  For example, a study by the Buffalo News on New York’s state constitutional history indicates nearly every major right – communal or individual – offered in the state constitution was added by constitutional conventions, not legislative amendments, including: The state’s Bill of Rights; environmental protections preserving state forest lands in the Adirondacks; the Education Article, which has been interpreted to provide the right to a sound basic education; the requirement that the state provide aid and care for its needy; provisions encouraging the state and municipalities to provide low-income housing for vulnerable residents; and a labor bill of rights. Would these provisions have been adopted without resort to constitutional conventions? “We wouldn’t bet our future on it” says the study’s author.

Impact:

Clearly, on the state level the common use of Constitutional Conventions has added laws to the states constitutions that have directly benefitted citizens of that state.

Sources:

The Buffalo News, February 1, 2017; ballotpedia website of state government statistics

4. Claim: Having a constitutional convention would allow the US government to create a new constitution, one which is not only better but more modernized.
Warrant:

Most of the amendments are outdated and just plain old, OVER 200 years old in fact. If the US were to modernize the constitution, we would have a constitution better fit for our time period. For example, the LGBTQ community was not recognized or accepted in the late 1700s, but now there needs to be rights for that community. 

The second amendment was written during the Revolutionary war and needs to be updated. 30,000 people a year die from firearms, and on average, 93 people a day are shot and killed. This is all because the second amendment, written during our war with the British, makes it so easy to buy legal guns, and created a black market for illegal guns.

Impact:

As time progresses, our society progresses. We need to be able to upgrade our laws in order to maintain a functional society that has rights for all. If at least ⅔ of our country desire to make a change in the law, we know that this change is necessary.The long lasting effects is that our Constitution would be easy to interpret, way better than the old one.

5. Claim: A constitutional convention would allow the constitution to be interpreted by the people who wrote it, clearing up any confusion.
Warrant:

Judge, the founding fathers are long dead. So when there is a confusing issue regarding the constitution, how do we know how they interpreted it? We don't! We need to change our constitution to be interpreted by modern day people, so that anything can be interpreted by the person who wrote it and everyone can know exactly what they meant.

Many conservatives believe in the idea of originalism which makes it hard to interpret the constitution with modern day culture. The Oxford Dictionary defines “originalism” as the judicial interpretation of the constitution that aims to follow closely the original intentions of those who drafted it. I don't know about you judge, but I’m pretty sure Ben Franklin has been dead for 230 years and it seems silly to try and guess how he would interpret the constitution today. A constitutional convention will fix this by making it easier to interpret amendments because the original drafters will be alive. We can have the constitution be interpreted right by the modern source, instead of trying to guess how a person from another era would interpret it to address modern problems.

Impact:

In the end we need modern founders who can interpret our constitution for modern times.

Sources:

Oxford Dictionary



CON (4 arguments)

1. Claim: Our constitution has worked effectively for over 200 years without ever using a constitutional convention. That experience proves that we don’t need one now.
Warrant:

The constitution has served us well since 1787. There are two ways to amend the constitution.  One method is through legislation passed by Congress and then approved by a specified number of states.  The other method is through a constitutional convention.  As of 2017, the convention process has never been used for proposing constitutional amendments, proving that it is not an appropriate method for changing our most important government document. 

To become part of the Constitution, an amendment must be ratified by either—as determined by Congress—the legislatures of three-fourths (presently 38) of the states or State ratifying conventions in three-fourths of the states. Thirty-three amendments to the United States Constitution have been approved by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. Twenty-seven of these amendments have been ratified and are now part of the constitution. That process takes time and allows for extensive review of proposed amendments by many people.  That process helps to protect our rights.  

A constitutional convention can only be called by the States.  It must be called by not less than 34 States. It is a process that is started by the States, not the Congress.  No amendments have ever been passed by constitutional convention.  It is too difficult to manage, and too difficult to control. It can be started by a group of states that don’t represent the majority of Americans. That is why it has never been used.  We should not start now.

Impact:

Judge, we have never held a constitutional convention since the original adoption of our constitution. That’s over 230 years of experience.  Holding one now, without fully understanding the long-term implications, is not worth the risk.  There must be a reason that we have never held a convention. Our history should provide strong evidence that a convention is not the right approach to fixing any of our issues with the constitution.

Sources:

Washington Post

2. Claim: A constitutional convention is very risky, since there are no rules that govern how it will be managed or conducted. That could lead to very dangerous and unknown results.
Warrant:

Article V of the constitution allows the States to call for a constitutional convention to change our constitution, but it doesn’t provide any specific rules about the conduct or agenda for that convention.  Since there are no rules and no specific agenda, it could put our entire constitution ‘up for grabs’. “Why fix something that isn’t broken?”. Our current amendments are not broken, so why should we make the entire constitution vulnerable? 

According to the Washington Post, a constitutional convention could put everything we believe critical to our form of democracy at stake, including: the freedoms we take for granted under the Bill of Rights, the powers of the president, Congress and the courts, and the policies the government can or cannot pursue. Since the constitution doesn’t provide specific rules for a convention, and doesn’t set any agenda or other framework, a convention will leave lots of uncertainty and put no limits on what the people attending the convention may do.  As Alexander Hamilton, one of the architects of the constitution said in the famous Federalist papers, after a convention is properly called, Congress has no additional role to play and "nothing is left to the discretion of Congress” at that point.  So, who knows what will come out of that convention?

A convention could set its own agenda, possibly influenced by powerful interest groups. The only constitutional convention in U.S. history, in 1787, went far beyond its mandate. Charged with amending the Articles of Confederation to promote trade among the states, the convention instead wrote an entirely new governing document.  A convention held today could set its own agenda, too.  There is no guarantee that a convention could be limited to a particular set of issues, such as those related to balancing the federal budget. As a result, powerful, well-funded interest groups would surely seek to influence the process and press for changes to the agenda, seeing a constitutional convention as an opportunity to enact major policy changes.  The Constitution provides no guidance whatsoever on the ground rules for a convention.  This leaves wide open to political considerations and pressures such fundamental questions as how the delegates would be chosen, how many delegates each state would have, and whether a supermajority vote would be required to approve amendments.  As former Chief Justice Burger wrote, a “Constitutional Convention today would be a free-for-all for special interest groups.”  

As we said in our first assertion, our constitution is working just fine and we don't need to amend it, much less put the entire thing at risk. If the people attending a convention can eliminate freedom of the press, the right to practice your religion, or the right not to be searched by the government without good reason, shouldn’t we all be scared? That can happen if we allow for a constitutional convention.  It is a very dangerous, and potentially harmful, approach.

Impact:

The last thing we need is a constitutional convention. There are some things wrong with our government, but we shouldn’t try to fix them with a constitutional convention.  If we need to change the constitution, we should use the same method by which the current 27 amendments have been passed. That method takes more time, is more deliberative, and lets more of our citizens has a say over the process.  It’s the right way to amend the constitution.

Sources:

Washington Post; Constitution Center.org

3. Claim: A constitutional convention may be completely undemocratic.
Warrant:

Article V of the constitution requires Congress to call a constitutional convention if 34 States request a convention.  Those States may not include California, New York, Texas or Florida. They may only represent a small fraction of all Americans. Why should they be allowed to change everyone’s rights? 

Since the constitution doesn’t specify how a convention should be run, it could pass amendments by simple majority vote of those states attending the convention. And, as we previously said, it may be able to pass amendments on anything – there may be no limits on what it can do.  Is that democratic?  It may not be.  Consider that if every state had one vote in the convention and the convention could approve amendments with a simple majority vote, the 26 least populous states — which contain less than 18 percent of the nation’s people — could approve an amendment for ratification.  Those states may not even include large, important states like California. That doesn’t seem democratic.

Impact:

Judge, why should a group of states that includes less than half of our population be allowed to propose amendments that might strip away all of our rights? That doesn’t seem like a good process. If we allow that process, we can never know where it will lead and what rights we may eventually lose.

Sources:

thedailybeast.com; crf-usa.org

4. Claim: Constitutional conventions have never succeeded, are just a distraction and will not accomplish anything.
Warrant:

States have unsuccessfully tried to call conventions in the past without any success.  We should not waste time, or resources, on a process that has never before worked and will confuse our citizens. 

There have been over 10,000 potential amendments introduced to congress over the last 230 years or so, and only 27 have been adopted and become a part of the constitution. Even those have not always been smart decisions. For example, the 18th amendment prohibited the sale of alcohol, and the 21st amendment then repealed the 18th amendment. With this experience, it is very clear that a Constitutional Convention would not do any good besides wasting people’s time, distracting our government and creating a lot of confusion about where the government may be headed.

Impact:

Judge, we have never had a constitutional convention in over 200 years.  If we called one, it would be distracting, it would be confusing and it would not really fix any problems that can’t be fixed by the amendment process we have used for 27 amendments.  Why would we do something that will not improve our government?

Sources:

thedailybeast.com, crf-usa.org