Constitutional Law

Conservative groups push for constitutional convention; would it open Pandora's box of mischief?

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Conservative groups pushing for a constitutional convention are just six states short of their goal.

Thirty-four states are needed to call a constitutional convention under Article 5 of the Constitution. So far 28 states have adopted resolutions for a constitutional convention to consider an amendment that requires a balanced federal budget, the New York Times reports.

As Republicans have taken control of more state legislatures “what was once a pet project of the party’s fringe has become a proposal with a plausible chance of success,” the article says.

Opponents warn that a convention “could open a Pandora’s box of constitutional mischief,” according to the article. The detractors argue deficit spending is needed to jump-start the economy in a recession, allow Congress to keep Social Security afloat, and finance projects such as road construction. And they worry that a convention could produce additional, ill-considered amendments.

One person raising the issue is University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt. “Once you have a convention,” he tells the New York Times, “then in some respects it becomes a free-for-all.”

Standing in the way of a convention, however, is a probable court battle over whether the state legislatures’ votes for a convention use sufficiently similar language. And if the necessary two-thirds of states back the convention, three-quarters of the states would need to approve any proposed amendment that emerges.

Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig isn’t worried about a runaway convention. “The very terms of Article 5 state that proposals aren’t valid unless they’re ratified by three-fourths of the states,” he tells the Times. “There’s no controversial idea on the left or the right that won’t have 13 states against it.”

Hat tip to How Appealing.

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