Law & Principles

Five Questions about Article V: Question #4

September 17, 2015

Trent England

Part four of five in the "Five Questions: Constitution expert Trent England on the pros and cons of an Article V convention" series. 

Holding a national convention to propose constitutional amendments is either the only solution to rebalance our political system or a sure path to its final destruction. At least, those are the two points of view most commonly heard in the current debate over using “Article V”—really just one clause therein—in an attempt to change the U.S. Constitution.

Why not call a convention?

The arguments made against calling a convention to propose constitutional amendments fall along two lines. Some are arguments against constitutional change generally, while others focus on the convention method in particular.

James Madison warned in Federalist No. 49 that frequent tinkering with the Constitution could rob our system of “that veneration which time bestows on everything, and without which perhaps the wisest and freest governments would not possess the requisite stability.” In other words, if the problem today is that Americans are losing respect for the Constitution, changing the Constitution might only make things worse. And if the problem is not really the text of the Constitution, but that politicians and judges simply ignore the text and get away with it, is changing or adding to the text really a solution?

Madison also warned that ordinary politics would always tend to simply spill over into conversations about constitutional change, particularly in a convention. That concern today often focuses on how the convention process might be manipulated by Congress or the courts. It is Congress, after all, that would call the convention. Once set in motion, disputes would be inevitable in the untried, high-stakes process. These would likely wind up being decided by federal judges.

Read the full article in Perspective >