Legislative Column for April 10, 2014

Convention of States

“All of us came here because we knew the country couldn’t go on the way it was going. So it falls to all of us to take action. We have to ask ourselves if we do nothing, where does all of this end. Can anyone here say that if we can’t do it, someone down the road can do it, and if no one does it, what happens to the country... ask yourselves if not us, who, if not now, when?” - Ronald Reagan

Citizens who pay attention are becoming increasingly disenchanted with government. Many feel abandoned by judges and elected officials who see themselves as above the U. S. Constitution rather than subject to it. America’s Founding Fathers would be disappointed but not surprised.

At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, George Mason, along with other framers, objected when only Congress was allowed to propose constitutional amendments. The framers knew that should Congress one day become oppressive, the states would be powerless to restrain them.  Anticipating that Congress would one day abuse its power, a section was added to Article V whereby states themselves can propose constitutional amendments. Some call this second procedure an “Article V Convention.” 

According to Article V, Congress can propose constitutional amendments, which must pass both houses and be ratified by two-thirds of the state legislatures in order to become law. Alternatively, the states can propose amendments themselves through a convention. In order for a convention to be called, 34 states have to submit similar or identical applications to Congress calling for a convention.

Article V requires that upon receipt of 34 state applications, Congress must call a convention of states. The 34 applications must be virtually identical in scope and content. The jurisdiction of the convention is limited to the theme or policies common to all 34 petitions. Each state would select and send its own delegates, to the convention. Once an amendment is proposed and agreed to by the convention delegates it would go through the standard ratification process requiring concurrence of two-thirds of the state legislatures. Other than the obligation to call a convention of states, Congress has NO power over the convention; the power lies solely with the states.

Last week the Missouri House General Laws Committee heard HCR 41, which is an application to Congress to call for an Article V Convention for the purpose of proposing amendments to the Constitution. Some express reservation and even fear about convening any convention, no matter how restrained, to consider constitutional amendments. 

However, throughout history Congress has received over 400 state applications under Article V. This process is neither unprecedented nor new. The reason you may not have heard about these applications is that there has never been common agreement on a convention topic. Since 1905, Missouri, alone, has passed at least 10 Article V applications, the last one was passed in 1994.

What HCR 41 calls for is an amendment convention, not a constitutional convention. HCR 41 addresses only amendments to “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and Members of Congress.” Anything further would be completely outside the jurisdiction of the Missouri delegation.

According to constitutional lawyer Michael Farris, who flew in to testify at the HCR 41 hearing last week, the passage and subsequent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) sent a clear message to the states that Congress will not limit itself unless the states intercede. We seem to have discarded the notion of limited government. It is up to the states and the people to restore unalienable rights by the re-imposition of constitutional limits

In Federalist No. 85, Alexander Hamilton explains Article V as the second way to propose amendments. When talking about Article V Hamilton states: “We may safely rely on the disposition of the State legislatures to erect barriers against the encroachments of the national authority.” The states too often forget that they empowered Congress, not the other way around. HCR 41 has furthered a much-needed discussion of the Constitution and state sovereignty. With Congress out of control and national debt surpassing $17 trillion, it seems appropriate, even urgent, that we examine and consider every constitutional option provided by the wise and intuitive men who gave us the U.S. Constitution.

Thank you for reading this legislative report. You can contact my office at (573) 751-2108 if you have any questions. Thank you and we welcome your prayers for the proper application of state government.