Article V

Each State legislator is part of a standing committee of the legislative branch of the federal government.  Calling an Article V convention brings the committee to order.  The fact that the committee has never met is irrelevant in Constitutional law. 

State legislators may not fully comprehend the ways that Article V can be used to improve flaws in our government.  The Constitution allows them to bypass Congress and the special interests that have Congress in their grip.  It can be argued that, if America seeks to improve our national government, State legislators have not only an opportunity, but an obligation to do so. 

It all starts with the principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence; ‘consent of the governed’ and our right to change our government.  The Constitution lays out our framework of laws and sets out Article V as the instrument with which our government can be changed.  George Washington’s Farewell Address provides practical guidance.  He emphasizes ‘checks and balances’ and ‘separation of powers’ to prevent despotism and urges restraint of political parties. 

Alexander Hamilton (writing in The Federalist #85) argued that the second part of Article V would enable state legislatures to “erect barriers against the encroachments of the national authority”

Article I of the Constitution gives Congress extensive power to adopt legislation.  It deals with most issues but fall short on one issue.  It cannot effectively oversee itself.  The Constitution, by default, gives that oversight to the States.  Since Congress also has the ultimate power over the Supreme Court and the Executive branch of government, general oversight over the entire government also defaults to the States. 

George Washington’s Farewell Address was written over a long time frame and assistance was given by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.  It lays out the Founding Fathers practical perspective of the function of government and the pitfalls inherent in our representative democracy.  Most would agree that, thus far, this government has stood the test of time and States oversight has not been necessary.  History has demonstrated that true oversight of our government has been, in part, due to the better angels of human nature.  And this has contributed to our longevity. 

In recent history, a Democracy Index has been developed.  It compares the level of democracy in each government.  Of the 167 regimes we now rank 26th best for highest level of democracy. The parameters of ranking are closely associated with the issues laid out by Washington.  Clearly Washington hoped that our government would be near the top of such a ranking system. 

But we are not in the top tier of democratic countries.  Of the four systems of ranking, we are only second best.  The ranking system (Democracy Index) is detailed and based out of the United Kingdom.  And our rank has been recently declining.  We are now rated a Flawed Democracy.    

When we, as a country, find that we are no longer a ‘shining city on a hill’ or a ‘beacon of democracy’ and our government is not appropriately responsive to the will of the people, it’s time for a change.  When we find that we are sliding down the democracy index and picking up additional traits found most commonly in flawed democracies and hybrid regimes, it’s time for a change. 

Here’s George Washington’s advice: “If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation…”  Clearly, Washington is referring to Article V.  And if a series of elections have not corrected the wrong, then the only other Constitutional option is the second part of Article V; oversight by the States. 

An Article V convention could also be named the Government Oversight Committee. Its function is to propose amendments to the Constitution.  Its practical purpose is to provide oversight over the branches of government for issues where Congress is not as likely to provide that oversight.  Indeed, congressional oversight may be subject to self-interest, partisanship, or the influence of special interests.

In Congress, our better angels of human nature are sometimes hijacked by greed and lust for power and fame while abandoning the principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence.  State representatives are more separated from federal government influence and their better angels of human nature may act independently.

It’s been a half century since the Constitution was amended.  Congressional approval ratings are at historical lows. 

If we do indeed believe that our democracy is sliding down the Democracy Index and away from the principles that were laid out by the Founding Fathers, and that we want to stop or reverse that trend, then the logical step is to call the Government Oversight Committee to order. 

Thus far, all efforts to open the convention doors have failed. 

In the past, the first part of Article V was effectively used to amend the Constitution. Polarization now has a firm grip on the United States Congress.  Use of the first part of Article V as a method to correct government flaws is unlikely in this environment.  Because of the high level of polarization, an increasing number of issues are seen as partisan issues.   Substantial discussions of amending the Constitution, for any reason, have not been on the table for many years. The potential numbers of issues that may best be handled by the Oversight Committee have increased. 

Failure to open the convention doors is due primarily to the lack of political will.  Political will has been lacking due to the perceived lack of necessity.  But other factors are also relevant. 

The public and State legislators are not fully informed.  Media attention to this government oversight opportunity has been scarce to non-existent.  Partisan efforts to open the convention doors have caused fear from opposing factions and this has poisoned the atmosphere.  Leadership and organized efforts between States has been scarce. 

Ultimately, it comes down to two factors.  First, State legislators must choose to pursue oversight of the federal government.  Secondly, State legislators must be willing to consider non-partisan measures.  The overall objective may be stated as government oversight as intended by the framers of the Constitution, not just passage of an individual proposal. 

In order to gain approval of 38 states and pass a Constitutional amendment, the measure will necessarily be non-partisan.  This is because each faction in our two-party political system has enough States to block a partisan measure.  A proposed amendment needs to benefit the large majority of Americans, not just one faction. 

If the measure must end up being non-partisan, then why should we not start it out in a non-partisan fashion?  It is doubtful that any group will ever amend our Constitution by making a partisan statement. 

Perhaps the bar is too high.  Gaining approval from 34 States has shown to be awkward and disorganized process.  In the era of the Founders, only 9 States were needed to open an Article V convention, and they were all located in the same geographical region.  If the true objective is to seek oversight over the federal government, then we must seek a non-partisan solution that clears this high bar.  The tools are in the toolbox.  We just need to work together instead of attempting an all-out assault with just one (potentially partisan) issue. 

Different States have submitted applications with varying proposals to amend the Constitution.  Individually, the proposals may seem to be partisan ploys.  But if the proposals were all lumped together, the lumped proposal would be far less partisan.  The agenda at the convention would be expanded.  And if this makes the act of opening the convention doors more likely, then this is an appropriate step toward the goal of government oversight. 

The act of opening the doors of an Article V convention sends a message to the entire federal government.  The message is that the branches of federal government do not have unlimited power because the States have an oversight function.   That alone makes despotism, as described by George Washington, less likely.  And if we do not open the convention, it empowers those who seek a government that is lower on the Democracy Index.  Each time that an issue is debated at the convention, it is an exercise in government as intended by the Founders. 

Those debates set national precedent and the press will take notice.  Media coverage emboldens the process and informs the public on those issues.  Without the conventions, those issues may not gain public attention.  Washington argued that “the American government needs to ensure “the general diffusion of knowledge throughout the United States; the government has been created to enforce the opinion of the people, so the opinion of the people should be informed and knowledgeable”

The convention may attract more statesmen and fewer political pundits.  Non-partisan debates can send a non-partisan message in a partisan arena. 

It may not be important that any specific issue be debated.  What is important is that important issues are being debated and that those issues that ultimately truly concern the public will be vetted.  Adoption of an amendment to the Constitution is a result of public will. 

Our Constitution provides only one legal and authorized method of supervision over the federal government.  A bundled application may be the best opportunity to engage that oversight.  If the national sentiment is to exercise federal oversight, then State legislators must make a choice.  Each State legislator pledges allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.  Americans expect them not to pledge allegiance to a State Flag or a party banner.  Their non-partisan support will open the doors of the Article V convention.    State legislators may choose to vote for a measure that creates that oversight, even if they do not have a strongly favored proposal to be vetted at the convention. 

Fear and misunderstanding contribute to the lack of political will.

Although the Constitution does not state that the purpose of an Article V convention is government oversight, that purpose is most logical at this time.   In theory, the entire structure of government could be changed at an Article V convention, but that notion has no support from the public.   Indeed, in the past 100 years, no state has applied to an A-5 convention for the purpose of achieving a major restructuring.  Recent application topics have dealt with:

Fiscal restraints

Term limits

Balanced budget

Campaign finance reform

Countermand amendment

Those that spread fear of a ‘runaway convention’ may have a vested interest in preventing the A-5 convention.  All those associated with the federal government may oppose their own oversight and promotion of the term ‘runaway convention’ may be in their best interest.  Any change to the status quo is bound to bring out paid pundits to stand in opposition.  From a practical non-partisan viewpoint, any measure that is approved by 38 State legislatures must be good for the country. 

Attempts at holding an A-5 convention for one issue have failed.  This method lacks communication between states that could occur after the doors were opened.  Instead of limiting the convention to discussion of one issue, the convention can be called for all of the recent issues for which States have issued applications.  That would bring state legislators (often from different political parties) together for discussion. It would also create necessary media exposure. It is easy pickings for naysayer propaganda when the public is left out of the main conversation.   Success in adopting a new amendment to our Constitution is not assured but A-5 convention will initiate a national conversation on specific issues and that conversation will directly or indirectly lead to better government. 

If all of the topics on applications in the last seven years were bundled, we would have the five topics shown above. 

A structured application would serve three functions.  First, by naming topics it would serve the legal obligation to provide the reasons for the application.  And at least one of those topics mustbe reasonably matched to obtain the 34 state applications on the same topic necessary to open the convention. 

Secondly, the State may lay out its expectations for the convention.  A limited convention is likely to be most desirable.  Laying out the limitations of the convention may serve to encourage State legislators to approve the application.  Limitations may include only allowing a vote on those topics where applications have been recently submitted.  For reasons of conflict of interest, those who have close ties to the federal government may not be allowed as delegates at the convention.  Any and all potential limitations may be discussed in advance prior to the submission of the application. 

Thirdly, the State may lay out its intended actions if its expectations for conduct at the convention are not met.  A State may withdraw from the convention at any time.  If many States had similar withdrawal threats in their applications, the structure of the convention would be limited. A stated intention to withdraw from the convention for reasons related to a ‘runaway convention’ would act as a deterrent for radical actors at the convention and therefore encourage State legislators to approve the application. 

Fear of a too-specific amendment may cause Congress to act (perhaps to water down the language and make it more desirable to congressional interests).  History has shown that theprospect of an A-5 convention has caused Congress to initiate action on many Constitutional amendments.

Many of the issues in the bundle may never be addressed by Congress especially if they deal directly or indirectly with Congressional power, or congressional perks.  It’s basic human nature that the federal government wants to legislate itself more power while giving the states less power. 

A well-functioning government should take away those factors that cause loyalty to the party to supersede loyalty to the country.  “political parties must be restrained”.  Thus far the only restraint of political parties has been due to the better angels of our human nature.   If hyper partisanship has recently had a negative influence on the better angels of our government, then oversight by those not directly connected to the federal government is a logical course of action. 

Someone’s ox will be gored.  Powerful interests already in place may lose some of their power if we move up the yardstick of Democracy.  Paraphrasing the Declaration of Independence, ‘government should not be changed for light and transient causes but when a long train of abuses leads in the direction of despotism, it is our right, it is our duty, to make the necessary changes’.  When attempting to accomplish those changes, we cannot let the interests of the few dominate the interest of the majority.   

If we wish to avoid a drift toward despotism, as described by Washington, we must address these issues of separation power.  Today’s federal legislative branch of government is not addressing these issues and therefore puts our representative democracy in danger.  Article V provides State legislators an opportunity to halt the drift. 

As government evolves over time, we face the prospect that it may move away from our Founder concept of ‘consent of the governed’.  The best oversight option provided by our Constitution is Article V.  Prudent use of this option should be seriously considered in these challenging times.

Dale Leitzke

Each State legislator is part of a standing committee of the legislative branch of the federal government.  Calling an Article V convention brings the committee to order.  The fact that the committee has never met is irrelevant in Constitutional law. 

State legislators may not fully comprehend the ways that Article V can be used to improve flaws in our government.  The Constitution allows them to bypass Congress and the special interests that have Congress in their grip.  It can be argued that, if America seeks to improve our national government, State legislators have not only an opportunity, but an obligation to do so. 

It all starts with the principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence; ‘consent of the governed’ and our right to change our government.  The Constitution lays out our framework of laws and sets out Article V as the instrument with which our government can be changed.  George Washington’s Farewell Address provides practical guidance.  He emphasizes ‘checks and balances’ and ‘separation of powers’ to prevent despotism and urges restraint of political parties. 

Alexander Hamilton (writing in The Federalist #85) argued that the second part of Article V would enable state legislatures to “erect barriers against the encroachments of the national authority”

Article I of the Constitution gives Congress extensive power to adopt legislation.  It deals with most issues but fall short on one issue.  It cannot effectively oversee itself.  The Constitution, by default, gives that oversight to the States.  Since Congress also has the ultimate power over the Supreme Court and the Executive branch of government, general oversight over the entire government also defaults to the States. 

George Washington’s Farwell Address was written over a long time frame and assistance was given by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.  It lays out the Founding Fathers practical perspective of the function of government and the pitfalls inherent in our representative democracy.  Most would agree that, thus far, this government has stood the test of time and States oversight has not been necessary.  History has demonstrated that true oversight of our government has been, in part, due to the better angels of human nature.  And this has contributed to our longevity. 

In recent history, a Democracy Index has been developed.  It compares the level of democracy in each government.  Of the 167 regimes we now rank 26th best for highest level of democracy. The parameters of ranking are closely associated with the issues laid out by Washington.  Clearly Washington hoped that our government would be near the top of such a ranking system. 

But we are not in the top tier of democratic countries.  Of the four systems of ranking, we are only second best.  The ranking system (Democracy Index) is detailed and based out of the United Kingdom.  And our rank has been recently declining.  We are now rated a Flawed Democracy.    

When we, as a country, find that we are no longer a ‘shining city on a hill’ or a ‘beacon of democracy’ and our government is not appropriately responsive to the will of the people, it’s time for a change.  When we find that we are sliding down the democracy index and picking up additional traits found most commonly in flawed democracies and hybrid regimes, it’s time for a change. 

Here’s George Washington’s advice: “If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation…”  Clearly, Washington is referring to Article V.  And if a series of elections have not corrected the wrong, then the only other Constitutional option is the second part of Article V; oversight by the States. 

An Article V convention could also be named the Government Oversight Committee. Its function is to propose amendments to the Constitution.  Its practical purpose is to provide oversight over the branches of government for issues where Congress is not as likely to provide that oversight.  Indeed, congressional oversight may be subject to self-interest, partisanship, or the influence of special interests.

In Congress, our better angels of human nature are sometimes hijacked by greed and lust for power and fame while abandoning the principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence.  State representatives are more separated from federal government influence and their better angels of human nature may act independently.

It’s been a half century since the Constitution was amended.  Congressional approval ratings are at historical lows. 

If we do indeed believe that our democracy is sliding down the Democracy Index and away from the principles that were laid out by the Founding Fathers, and that we want to stop or reverse that trend, then the logical step is to call the Government Oversight Committee to order. 

Thus far, all efforts to open the convention doors have failed. 

In the past, the first part of Article V was effectively used to amend the Constitution. Polarization now has a firm grip on the United States Congress.  Use of the first part of Article V as a method to correct government flaws is unlikely in this environment.  Because of the high level of polarization, an increasing number of issues are seen as partisan issues.   Substantial discussions of amending the Constitution, for any reason, have not been on the table for many years. The potential numbers of issues that may best be handled by the Oversight Committee have increased. 

Failure to open the convention doors is due primarily to the lack of political will.  Political will has been lacking due to the perceived lack of necessity.  But other factors are also relevant. 

The public and State legislators are not fully informed.  Media attention to this government oversight opportunity has been scarce to non-existent.  Partisan efforts to open the convention doors have caused fear from opposing factions and this has poisoned the atmosphere.  Leadership and organized efforts between States has been scarce. 

Ultimately, it comes down to two factors.  First, State legislators must choose to pursue oversight of the federal government.  Secondly, State legislators must be willing to consider non-partisan measures.  The overall objective may be stated as government oversight as intended by the framers of the Constitution, not just passage of an individual proposal. 

In order to gain approval of 38 states and pass a Constitutional amendment, the measure will necessarily be non-partisan.  This is because each faction in our two-party political system has enough States to block a partisan measure.  A proposed amendment needs to benefit the large majority of Americans, not just one faction. 

If the measure must end up being non-partisan, then why should we not start it out in a non-partisan fashion?  It is doubtful that any group will ever amend our Constitution by making a partisan statement. 

Perhaps the bar is too high.  Gaining approval from 34 States has shown to be awkward and disorganized process.  In the era of the Founders, only 9 States were needed to open an Article V convention, and they were all located in the same geographical region.  If the true objective is to seek oversight over the federal government, then we must seek a non-partisan solution that clears this high bar.  The tools are in the toolbox.  We just need to work together instead of attempting an all-out assault with just one (potentially partisan) issue. 

Different States have submitted applications with varying proposals to amend the Constitution.  Individually, the proposals may seem to be partisan ploys.  But if the proposals were all lumped together, the lumped proposal would be far less partisan.  The agenda at the convention would be expanded.  And if this makes the act of opening the convention doors more likely, then this is an appropriate step toward the goal of government oversight. 

The act of opening the doors of an Article V convention sends a message to the entire federal government.  The message is that the branches of federal government do not have unlimited power because the States have an oversight function.   That alone makes despotism, as described by George Washington, less likely.  And if we do not open the convention, it empowers those who seek a government that is lower on the Democracy Index.  Each time that an issue is debated at the convention, it is an exercise in government as intended by the Founders. 

Those debates set national precedent and the press will take notice.  Media coverage emboldens the process and informs the public on those issues.  Without the conventions, those issues may not gain public attention.  Washington argued that “the American government needs to ensure “the general diffusion of knowledge throughout the United States; the government has been created to enforce the opinion of the people, so the opinion of the people should be informed and knowledgeable”

The convention may attract more statesmen and fewer political pundits.  Non-partisan debates can send a non-partisan message in a partisan arena. 

It may not be important that any specific issue be debated.  What is important is that important issues are being debated and that those issues that ultimately truly concern the public will be vetted.  Adoption of an amendment to the Constitution is a result of public will. 

Our Constitution provides only one legal and authorized method of supervision over the federal government.  A bundled application may be the best opportunity to engage that oversight.  If the national sentiment is to exercise federal oversight, then State legislators must make a choice.  Each State legislator pledges allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.  Americans expect them not to pledge allegiance to a State Flag or a party banner.  Their non-partisan support will open the doors of the Article V convention.    State legislators may choose to vote for a measure that creates that oversight, even if they do not have a strongly favored proposal to be vetted at the convention. 

Fear and misunderstanding contribute to the lack of political will.

Although the Constitution does not state that the purpose of an Article V convention is government oversight, that purpose is most logical at this time.   In theory, the entire structure of government could be changed at an Article V convention, but that notion has no support from the public.   Indeed, in the past 100 years, no state has applied to an A-5 convention for the purpose of achieving a major restructuring.  Recent application topics have dealt with:

Fiscal restraints

Term limits

Balanced budget

Campaign finance reform

Countermand amendment

Those that spread fear of a ‘runaway convention’ may have a vested interest in preventing the A-5 convention.  All those associated with the federal government may oppose their own oversight and promotion of the term ‘runaway convention’ may be in their best interest.  Any change to the status quo is bound to bring out paid pundits to stand in opposition.  From a practical non-partisan viewpoint, any measure that is approved by 38 State legislatures must be good for the country. 

Attempts at holding an A-5 convention for one issue have failed.  This method lacks communication between states that could occur after the doors were opened.  Instead of limiting the convention to discussion of one issue, the convention can be called for all of the recent issues for which States have issued applications.  That would bring state legislators (often from different political parties) together for discussion. It would also create necessary media exposure. It is easy pickings for naysayer propaganda when the public is left out of the main conversation.   Success in adopting a new amendment to our Constitution is not assured but A-5 convention will initiate a national conversation on specific issues and that conversation will directly or indirectly lead to better government. 

If all of the topics on applications in the last seven years were bundled, we would have the five topics shown above. 

A structured application would serve three functions.  First, by naming topics it would serve the legal obligation to provide the reasons for the application.  And at least one of those topics mustbe reasonably matched to obtain the 34 state applications on the same topic necessary to open the convention. 

Secondly, the State may lay out its expectations for the convention.  A limited convention is likely to be most desirable.  Laying out the limitations of the convention may serve to encourage State legislators to approve the application.  Limitations may include only allowing a vote on those topics where applications have been recently submitted.  For reasons of conflict of interest, those who have close ties to the federal government may not be allowed as delegates at the convention.  Any and all potential limitations may be discussed in advance prior to the submission of the application. 

Thirdly, the State may lay out its intended actions if its expectations for conduct at the convention are not met.  A State may withdraw from the convention at any time.  If many States had similar withdrawal threats in their applications, the structure of the convention would be limited. A stated intention to withdraw from the convention for reasons related to a ‘runaway convention’ would act as a deterrent for radical actors at the convention and therefore encourage State legislators to approve the application. 

Fear of a too-specific amendment may cause Congress to act (perhaps to water down the language and make it more desirable to congressional interests).  History has shown that theprospect of an A-5 convention has caused Congress to initiate action on many Constitutional amendments.

Many of the issues in the bundle may never be addressed by Congress especially if they deal directly or indirectly with Congressional power, or congressional perks.  It’s basic human nature that the federal government wants to legislate itself more power while giving the states less power. 

A well-functioning government should take away those factors that cause loyalty to the party to supersede loyalty to the country.  “political parties must be restrained”.  Thus far the only restraint of political parties has been due to the better angels of our human nature.   If hyper partisanship has recently had a negative influence on the better angels of our government, then oversight by those not directly connected to the federal government is a logical course of action. 

Someone’s ox will be gored.  Powerful interests already in place may lose some of their power if we move up the yardstick of Democracy.  Paraphrasing the Declaration of Independence, ‘government should not be changed for light and transient causes but when a long train of abuses leads in the direction of despotism, it is our right, it is our duty, to make the necessary changes’.  When attempting to accomplish those changes, we cannot let the interests of the few dominate the interest of the majority.   

If we wish to avoid a drift toward despotism, as described by Washington, we must address these issues of separation power.  Today’s federal legislative branch of government is not addressing these issues and therefore puts our representative democracy in danger.  Article V provides State legislators an opportunity to halt the drift. 

As government evolves over time, we face the prospect that it may move away from our Founder concept of ‘consent of the governed’.  The best oversight option provided by our Constitution is Article V.  Prudent use of this option should be seriously considered in these challenging times.

Dale Leitzke

Published by yooper1951

Recently retired real estate appraiser. My interest in Constitutional amendments resulted from the lack of recent Congressional action. It has been too long. Its hard to look at today's political climate and not see a need for a change.

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