Author: benw

A Constitutional Convention Would Do More Good Than Harm

CON (4 arguments)

1. 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.

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.


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.


Washington Post

2. 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.

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.


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.


Washington Post; Constitution

3. A constitutional convention may be completely undemocratic.

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.


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.


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

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.


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?