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My view: Article V movement is a product of government overreach, not people’s ignorance

Americans are well-represented by those attempting to implement an Article V convention.
Americans are well-represented by those attempting to implement an Article V convention.
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Don Fotheringham’s Nov. 17 op-ed titled “Americans pay a high price for ignorance,” which is about the Assembly of State Legislatures’ (ASL) annual convention on Nov. 11–13 in Salt Lake City, completely misunderstands the motivations and the careful constitutional path planned out by advocates of invoking Article V for constitutional reform. The members of this movement wish to restore the sovereignty of the people, not usurp it.

“Constitutional conventions are not lawmaking assemblies,” Fotheringham writes. “They are sovereign assemblies empowered by sovereign citizens who alone have the authority to make the rules, modify, create or disband their government.”

Although Fotheringham states this with some dread, he has nothing to fear. Americans are well-represented by those attempting to implement an Article V convention. The states have the authority to appoint delegates, who are duly elected and closely accountable state legislators, to make decisions on whether to approve amendments to the U.S. Constitution. States have already gone to great lengths to ensure the protection of our constitutional freedoms in the event an Article V convention is called.

Another safeguard rests with the states' governors, who have the authority, through delegate limitation and selection acts, to remove legislators who violate the rules of a convention. In addition, the prospect of a state legislator moving to disband the national government is slim to none, because a potential Article V convention would be limited to one subject only — a federal balanced budget amendment.

Fotheringham seems most intent on reducing the powers of the states rather than ensuring all levels of government are invested with the proper amount of authority. “During the drafting of Article V our Founders noted the absence of regulations for future conventions and they purposely left it that way. Why? Because the people are superior to the states and superior to the federal system they had just created,” Fotheringham writes.

Eighty legislators met in Salt Lake City to determine how to set regulations and limit the scope of an Article V convention, which is exactly what the Founders intended them to do when the people determine a new amendment is necessary and Congress fails to act. Why is this happening now? Because the federal government has become superior to the people who created it. Our federal government has racked up a national debt of $18 trillion, with no end to fiscal ruin in sight. There is no other way to stop this madness other than invoking Article V. Failing to do so will expose the United States to the same kind of fiscal catastrophe that is happening in Brazil and Portugal right now.

Fotheringham wrote: “If [the Assembly of State Legislatures] succeed in beguiling the legislatures of 34 states to opt for a new convention, it will certainly not be run by them.” This, too, is incorrect. The only authority Congress has in an Article V convention is to receive the application for a convention and then, by constitutional mandate, to call the convention, which would be run by the states. The rules proposed by ASL specify which state officers will preside over the convention, along with (again) setting strict rules for debate.

The Assembly of State Legislatures did not finalize any rules coming out of the 2015 meeting in Salt Lake City, but state legislators are one step closer to ensuring a structure for the first Article V convention in the nation’s history. The likely final verdict on ASL’s rules will come in summer 2016, when the group plans to meet in New York or Pennsylvania.

Fotheringham should be happy to hear his fears about an Article V convention, as deliberated by the ASL, are unfounded. The Heartland Institute recently released a new Policy Brief by attorney David F. Guldenschuh on the current state of the Article V movement in the United States. Fotheringham, and anyone else who wishes to be informed about this topic, should read this comprehensive and evenhanded document before reaching any conclusions about this nascent but growing movement.

Kyle Maichle (kmaichle@heartland.org) is project manager of constitutional reform at The Heartland Institute.