By – Michael Farris
There are three numbers, that are key to understanding the process for a Convention of States: 34-26-38. If you understand the meaning behind these numbers, you can explain a Convention of States (COS) to anyone.
Stage 1: 34 states.
The first stage of a COS requires two-thirds of the state legislatures (34) to pass a resolution (formally called an “application”) applying for a convention for a particular purpose. Our COS application calls for a convention for the purpose of proposing amendments on the following topics: “to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and to impose term limits on federal officials.”
There are also active efforts to pass applications for a convention for other purposes. The most notable of these is a movement to call for a convention to propose a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA).
There are two key differences between our COS application and the movement for a BBA. First, our application seeks to curb abuses of federal power in a number of areas. The BBA only seeks to require the federal government to spend no more than it receives. There would be no jurisdictional limits on spending resulting from a BBA—something we think is key to achieving actual fiscal restraint. Second, our COS model application is designed to be passed in an identical fashion (at least as it regards the controlling language in the application) in every state. There are multiple versions of the BBA application.
An important legal problem is present when the applications differ in their controlling provisions. The question is whether the various applications can be “aggregated”—that is are they actually on the same subject.
Does a state application calling for a balanced budget exclusively through spending cuts address the same topic an application calling for a balanced by any means necessary? There are real differences between such seemingly similar approaches. A BBA which prohibits Congress from ever raising any tax presents all kinds of logistical issues and is very unlikely to ever pass. A BBA application that gives the convention more leeway to draft the amendment is less likely to run into these logistical issues, but produce a BBA that in effective in actually controlling Congress’s spending spree. The point is that there are real differences between these two ideas for a BBA, and it’s at least possible that applications on these different but similar subjects may not be aggregated together.
Congress is the agency that determines when 34 states have passed applications on the same subject. If all 34 states pass language that is identical relative to the agenda for the convention, then Congress has no choice—it must call the convention. But, if Congress is presented with an array of applications that are similar, but far from identical, it give Congress much more leeway to squirm out of calling the convention.
The inevitable result for the BBA is litigation, regardless of whether Congress decides to aggregate the application or not. But, when Congress receives 34 identical COS applications, as it will under our approach, there is no opportunity for meaningful dispute or litigation. Of course, anyone can file a frivolous case, but if all the applications are uniform, the litigation will end in weeks not years. Once 34 states approve our COS application, there will be a convention promptly thereafter.
Stage 2: 26 states.
At the convention there are two voting rules: one state, one vote, and majority rules.
This means voting on each issue will be done by counting states, not by counting individual delegates. This was how voting was done at the original Constitutional Convention and all of the other multistate conventions in American history (over 30 of these have been held). So, if a state sends seven delegates, then whatever four delegates from that state decide on will determine the state’s vote at the convention. Accordingly, it doesn’t really matter how many delegates a state sends—at least for voting purposes—it is always one state, one vote.
It is in Stage 2 where the actual amendments are drafted. The amendments must be strictly limited to the subject matter of the call but the precise wording will be decided at the Convention by majority vote of 26 states.
Currently, 27 states are controlled by the Republicans in both houses (this doesn’t count Nebraska which is unicameral and nonpartisan, but effectively votes like a Republican state), 17 states are controlled by the Democrats in both houses, and 5 states are split. Given present political realities, it is clear which party would control the outcome of any proposed amendments at the convention.
The reality, however, is that the convention delegates will be looking to propose amendments that can survive the rigorous ratification process in Stage 3. And Stage 3 will require some support from states controlled by both parties.
There are a number of issues for which there is wide bipartisan support: balancing the federal budget, placing term limits on Congress, imposing spending and tax controls on Congress, stopping the federal government from dictating policy to the states, finding a reasonable balance to federal judicial power, stopping federal agencies and the president from dictating laws rather than passing them through Congress. These are the kind of amendments which have the possibility of being ratified in Stage 3 and for which bipartisan support is a real possibility.
Stage 3: 38 states.
The package of amendments that come out of the COS will be sent to the state legislatures for ratification. (While Congress could opt to have state ratification conventions ratify the proposed amendments, Congress is very unlikely to do so because such conventions would be far more likely to be dominated by grassroots conservatives.)
The original Bill of Rights proposed 12 amendments. Only 10 were ratified by 1791. (One was later ratified in the 1990s.) Each state gets to vote on each of the amendments. Whichever individual amendments are ratified by 38 state legislatures then become an official part of the Constitution.
If we get 34 states by the spring of 2016, the Convention would probably be held in the late summer and fall of that year. It would likely last 6 months or so, with ratification beginning in the 2017 state legislative sessions and carrying on for the next 2 to 3 years.
Thus, by the end of this decade, we could once again have a federal government that is truly limited in its authority. By 2020, we can bring a permanent end to the abuse of federal power.
How do we make this happen?
First, you need to be willing to stand up, speak up, and show up. If you write or call your state legislators, urging them to support a Convention of States, that is standing up and speaking up. And if you will come to their office, either in their district or in the Capital, that is showing up. Both kinds of activism are very effective especially on the state level.
The vast majority of state legislators in this country almost never hear from 100 people on a particular issue. It is unheard of for a state legislator to get calls or emails from 1000 voters on a particular issue—ever.
Our goal is to find at least 100 citizens to stand up, speak up, and show up in enough legislative districts to pass applications in 34 states and then ratify amendments in 38 states.
This would be satisfied by about 400,000 people joining this effort. There are 4000 state legislative districts in the 40 states most likely to approve of our efforts to limit federal government power. If we have 100 people in 100% of these districts, there is little doubt that we will win. Even if we only have 100 in 75% of the districts, our victory is still near certain.
AMAC alone has more than enough members to achieve these numbers by itself. If everyone reading this email will stand up, speak up, and show up we will win this fight.
But, we can go from virtual certainty to absolute certainty by adding more people. If only 25% of the people reading this email would recruit just 5 friends to join this effort, we would add an additional 750,000 people to the team. A grassroots movement of this magnitude on the state level is unheard of. At this level of activism, a Convention of States is no longer just a good idea, it is a practical reality.
The choice is ours. If we work together, we can stop the abuse of power in Washington, D.C.
Please join the movement at www.conventionofstates.com.