Senior Director of State Fiscal Research
Wyoming lawmakers passed a resolution this week asking Congress to call a constitutional convention to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution related to federal spending. Proponents claim that Wyoming is the 29th state to make such a proposal — close to the 34-state threshold required for Congress to call a convention under the Constitution’s Article V. While that count is questionable (in part because it includes some resolutions passed decades ago), Congress may choose to call a convention if five more states act. That would put the Constitution up for grabs, putting at risk the cherished rights and freedoms the document enshrines and widening the nation’s political divisions.
Contrary to proponents’ claims, states can’t control the actions or outcomes of a convention. The Constitution gives no guidance on the operating rules, and there’s no precedent on which to rely because a convention has never been called under Article V. Yet so much would be at stake. As constitutional scholar and Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe has said, “what you’re doing is putting the whole Constitution up for grabs.”
The only constitutional convention in U.S. history, in 1787, went far beyond its mandate. Charged with amending the Articles of Confederation, it instead wrote an entirely new governing document. It also changed the very rules of ratification, lowering the number of states needed to approve the new constitution.
A convention held today could set its own agenda operating under the influence of powerful interest groups. As former Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote, a “Constitutional Convention today would be a free-for-all for special interest groups.”
Our Constitution has served us well for over 200 years, and Americans across the political spectrum hold it dear. In the current environment, any constitutional convention would be hard fought and highly controversial — further dividing Americans rather than creating the unity that we so desperately need.