The Convention Process
In all of our earlier reform actions, we have never needed to rely on a convention of states under Article V, but from a variety of other gatherings we have accumulated a body of knowledge on which we can draw as we prepare for and conduct a convention of states. Here is an outline of this process:
At least 34 state legislatures must pass a resolution calling for a convention of states to consider proposed amendments to the Constitution.These resolutions are known as “applications.”Unless an application carries explicit language to the contrary, it is valid for an indefinite period.
Upon receipt of 34 similar (aggregable, as described below) state applications, Congress issues the call for a convention to all 50 states.The role of Congress in this process is limited to this simple administrative task.
The states will prepare for the convention, including accreditation of delegates representing the states, election of convention officers, establishing the rules of conduct for convention business, and any other matters that are deemed appropriate.
On the question of the convention agenda, there are two schools of thought:
An open (“plenary”) convention may consider any topic that is properly presented to it, or
A limited-agenda convention may only consider the topic (or topics) that were explicitly spelled out in the 34 applications that triggered the call.
(Some academics advocate for a limited-agenda convention; we have stated the case for an open convention in the essays on this website.)
The convention takes place, considering the proposals that were properly presented to it.It may approve a proposal without change, approve it with modification, or reject it. The convention would submit any approved amendments to the 50 states for their consideration and possible ratification; if it is ratified by at least 38 states it becomes law as part of the amended Constitution.
Two aspects of this procedure need further explanation: the durability of a state’s application and the aggregation of applications to meet the threshold of 34 to trigger a convention call.
The durability of an Application
An application to call a convention of states, unless it explicitly states otherwise, is deemed to have an indefinite term; it will be considered an active application unless it is subsequently withdrawn by the originating state or it has been used in calling a convention. We refer to applications submitted in prior years that are still active as the “Archived Applications,” and they are available for aggregation with new applications to call a convention. There are in fact more than 250 Archived Applications still considered active, dating as far back as 1791. They are a real treasure trove of documents that can aid us in our efforts to fix the federal government.
Aggregation of Applications
To trigger a call for a convention, there must be at least 34 applications that are aggregable, that is, are sufficiently compatible in their stated purpose for a reasonable person to consider it appropriate to combine them to call a convention. In 1993, Professor Michael Stokes Paulsen was the first person in recent years to conduct a study of the Archived Applications to determine if and how they might be aggregated. He updated this work in 2011 and others subsequently followed his lead, reviewing his methodology and updating his studies with later actions taken by states.
These studies have been consistent in their conclusions: approximately 30 applications are valid for calling an open (plenary) convention, approximately 28 are valid for calling a convention to consider a balanced budget amendment, 15 appear to be valid for calling a convention to consider the amendments proposed by the reform organization referred to as the Convention of States Project, and single-digit aggregations are available on various other issues.
Our Best Hope
There are a dozen or more citizen groups advocating for various reforms of the federal government and petitioning state legislatures to approve an application for their issue-specific cause. This has proven to be a never-ending labor of love: the oldest of these efforts has been at work for more than 25 years and has been obliged to spend significant money in their pursuit, which does not yet appear to be near completion. This singular approach is not promising, and one has to ask the question: Is this what the founders had in mind for us? Our analysis and answer to this question is set forth in the essays on this website; in them we advocate for a common sense reading of Article V of the Constitution and implementation of an open convention to address the severe dysfunction of our federal government.
We believe that utilizing our treasure trove of Archived Applications, supplemented by a few new state applications, could quickly enable us to call a convention to develop solutions to fix our federal government. These reforms could dramatically improve the culture of Washington and restore civility to our political affairs. We do not need to continue to allow toxic partisanship to rule our body politic; for the sake of our children and future generations of Americans.
The Article V plan for a convention of states to achieve constitutional amendments appears to be our best hope for saving the republic and our way of life, which is the envy of people around the world. In fact, we see no viable alternative path to meaningful reform!
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