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An Easy Choice

The creation of the limited-agenda convention, which appeared to be an effective response to the fear of a runaway convention, had a severe unintended consequence: it has crippled the Article V reform movements by complicating the problem of calling a convention.  When we compare the process of calling a limited-agenda convention with an open one, you will see why.

As pointed out in the essay The Founders’ Intent, the concept of a limited-agenda convention does not appear in the Constitution; it was created by academics as a defense against the fear of a runaway convention.  But after considering the high bars for ratification of proposed amendments, it seems clear that this defense becomes irrelevant.

Calling a Limited-Agenda Convention

Each Reform Group must work independently, approaching a legislature, presenting their issue-specific amendment proposal(s) and convince the legislative leaders of the merits of their program.

Legislative leaders are very busy people, particularly when their legislature is in session, and the Reform Groups’ first task is to manage to arrange enough “face time” with them to accomplish the following steps.

  1. Convince the leaders that there is a compelling need for their proposed reform, and their solution is the best of the available alternatives.This will require a mastery of the arguments in favor of their proposals and a working knowledge of the alternatives.

  2. If the reform program includes two or more amendments, repeat step 2 for each of them.

  3. Convince the leaders to sponsor an application and get the support needed to pass the resolution in their legislature.

  4. After achieving success with this legislature, move to another state and repeat the above process.

  5. Each of the Reform Groups (there are more than 10) must repeat this at least 33 more times.If they all pursue their goal to completion.


Calling an Open (plenary) Convention

  1. To call an open convention, we start with approximately 30 state applications that were passed in previous years (the Archived Applications) that we believe can be aggregated with new applications.  Individual Reform Groups could begin by approaching those 30 states and ask their leaders to sign a Declaration that confirms their support for a convention; then they would call on other states to seek new applications until they had 34 in total.  The number of new states required is only a guess, but we estimate that six might do the job.

  2. In all discussions with states, allay the fears of a runaway convention by convincing the legislators that this fear is not supported by the facts.  The high bar for ratification of an amendment by at least 38 states is ample protection against this threat.  This high bar would require a strong national consensus in favor before 38 states would venture to ratify any proposed amendment coming out of a convention.  Consequently, a limited-agenda is not only not required, it is an obstacle to a fully effective, deliberative convention.

  3. When calling on new states, the Reformers would not present specific reforms for approval; they would only need to convince the leaders that our dysfunctional federal government is ineffective, needs a thorough house-cleaning, and there are many serious reform proposals available to consider.  Since there is widespread agreement in the country that the federal government is broken, this should not be difficult.  There is no need to convince the leaders of the superiority of any single reform idea, which the limited-agenda approach requires.  The arguments for and against each reform do not need to be addressed in the state capitals; those discussions are delayed until the open convention convenes.

  4. Only one Declaration is required from the 30 states with applications on file and one application from each new state.


Work at the Convention

The work undertaken at the convention will be determined by which type was called: if it is a limited-agenda convention, only the issues specified in the authorizing applications may be addressed, but if it is an open (plenary) convention, any proposal may be presented to it that meets the criteria adopted in the rules for that convention.

All of the interested parties (state delegates) will be assembled in one location and they will engage in free and open debate, exchanging ideas on best solutions to each problem presented.  The work done at state capitals by Reform Groups will likely be of little value at the convention.  The convention may approve a proposal as submitted, approve it with modifications, or reject it.  This is an effective process, and promises to find the best available solutions to America’s problems.

Proposed amendments that are approved would be submitted to the 50 states for consideration and possible ratification.

State Legislature Workload

The workload on state legislators is strikingly different under the two approaches to calling a convention.  For a limited-agenda convention, 34 legislatures must, in addition to their normal busy workload, entertain every Reform Group (of which there are more than ten) for an in depth study of specific amendment proposals.

For an open convention, approximately 30 legislatures will be asked to simply confirm their previously submitted application, and perhaps six additional states must entertain one Reform Group to consider the need for federal government reform in general terms (no commitment asked on any specific reform proposal).  Compared to the limited-agenda workload, this is a walk in the park.


An Easy Choice

The process required to call a limited-agenda convention is daunting and gives a Reform Group little assurance they will succeed in getting to a convention.  Calling an open convention is much easier, more efficient, and holds the promise of better results.  An open convention is really the only choice if we are serious about enacting government reforms!


Our State Legislatures are our last best hope for America and our next best step is to call for a Convention of States.

Contributors: Mike Kapic, Neal Schuerer, and Marcus Costantino

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