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My view: Convention of States project is proposing amendments

By Mark Alspaugh

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 5 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 5 2014 6:42 p.m. MDT

The Convention of States project does not seek a specific amendment. Instead, it suggests a convention limited to proposing amendments that “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit power and jurisdiction and limit terms of office.

Manuel Balce Ceneta, Assocaited Press

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Unfortunately, serious flaws in Professor Davis’ commentary regarding a prospective state-led constitutional convention (“Is it time for another constitutional convention?” July 9) has touched off a firestorm of reactionary comments. Informed citizens will consider what the Constitution actually says about the state-led amendment process. Article V provides that, “The Congress … on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments.”

Political scientists describe three types of constitutional conventions. A general constitutional convention would be called to create the first constitution of a political unit or to entirely replace an existing constitution. An unlimited constitutional convention would be called to revise an existing constitution to the extent deemed proper. Finally, a limited constitutional convention would be restricted to revising only the areas of the current constitution named in the convention's call, the legal mandate establishing the convention.

Using the phrase “constitutional convention,” without the necessary clarification, leads many to visualize a 1787-like constitutional convention where everything is on the table rather than the type actually mandated by the Constitution, a convention of the third kind.

A related question is, “Can the subject matter of an Article V Amending Convention be limited?” While Professor Davis thinks the answer is no, numerous authoritative sources say yes. For example, the American Bar Association holds the view that “Congress has the power to establish procedures which would limit a convention’s authority to a specific subject matter where the legislatures of two-thirds of the states seek a convention limited to that subject.”

Hence, the convention is a creature of the states and only they can limit its subject matter. Congress cannot. Congress can assure that any amendments proposed are within the scope of the applications for which the call was issued and decline to send them forward for ratification if they are not. This is a logical, common sense explanation of the process and its safeguards.

The “runaway convention” hobgoblin that continues to surface in these conversations is a scare-mongering myth. An Article V Amending Convention cannot change one word of the Constitution; it can only propose amendments within the scope of the enabling applications. To become part of the Constitution, any amendments proposed must be ratified by at least three-fourths of the states (38) just like amendments originating in Congress must be ratified.

The possibility that a Convention of States could be hijacked by political fringe groups dedicated to imposition of an ideologically focused agenda to rewrite the Constitution, decimate the Bill of Rights and destroy our liberties — in plain view of all the states, 38 of which would need to ratify their actions — is preposterous. Would Utah join 37 other states to ratify amendments doing away with the Bill of Rights? Of course not.

Professor Davis describes the Convention of States project as group “on the right” looking to pass a balanced budget amendment. Neither is quite accurate. The director of the Convention of States project indeed has a conservative background, but the project is truly nonpartisan. Both major parties are complicit in the problems our country faces today, and it will take an alliance of patriots from all political persuasions to fix our broken government.

The Convention of States project does not seek a specific amendment. Instead, it suggests a convention limited to proposing amendments that “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government and limit the terms of office for its officials.” Think balanced budget, regulation limits, term limits, fairer taxation, meaningful oversight and real governmental accountability in a total package of restraints.

Mark Alspaugh is Arkansas state director for the Convention of States project. It is a project he has taken on in retirement to Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, after a career of over 50 years in the high-technology aerospace and defense sectors.

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