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Call a Convention to Amend the Constitution

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  • Special Interests vs. The People

    Clip: Debaters disagree over whether a constitutional convention would be corrupted by special interests or more directly represent the will of American citizens.

  • Clip: One State One Vote

    Clip: Debaters discuss the history and theory of "one state, one vote."

  • Clip: If Not Now, When?

    Clip: David Super responds to an audience member asking if now is a poor political climate for a constitutional convention, when would conditions be better suited for it?

Debate Details

Almost everyone can think of something they would like to change in the U.S. Constitution.  Some would like to update it to fit new technologies and evolving social mores.  Others think the Supreme Court has illegitimately “updated” it too much already, and would like to restore its original meaning.  Either way, it is always tempting to invoke Article V to amend the Constitution — to “fix" it, or “restore" it, or “improve" it.  But, on the other hand, there is a substantial risk to tinkering with the Constitution:  many amendments seem to have unintended consequences.  And calling a convention for proposing amendments is even riskier, because it has never been done before — and it might inadvertently put the entire constitutional structure up for grabs.  Is it worth the risk?  Should the states call a convention to amend the Constitution?

Presented in partnership with the National Constitution Center

The Debaters

For the motion

Lawrence Lessig

Professor, Harvard Law & Founder, Mayday PAC

Lawrence Lessig is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard... Read More

Mark Meckler

President, Citizens for Self-Governance

Mark Meckler is one of the nation’s most effective grassroots activists. After he co-founded and was the national coordinator of the Tea Party... Read More

Against the motion

David Super

Professor, Georgetown University Law Center

David Super is a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, specializing in administrative law, health law, legislation (including the federal... Read More

Walter Olson

Senior Fellow, Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies

Walter Olson is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies and is known for his writing on the American legal... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • The framers of the Constitution put a system in place to address an ineffective or failed Congress. By circumventing Congress, an Article V convention would empower states to address issues national legislators will not. 
  • In an era of unprecedented expansion of federal government through executive orders and wide-reaching Supreme Court decisions, an Article V convention would allow states to propose and ratify amendments that limit federal overreach. 
  • The threat of a “runaway” convention is unsubstantiated.  Because 38 states would be required to ratify any proposed amendment, any changes to the Constitution would reflect the will of the majority of Americans.
Against The Motion
  • Article V gives us very little guidance on how a convention would actually work.  With such an ill-defined process, whatever the end-result, the legitimacy of the Constitution will be called into question.
  • A convention to amend the Constitution would give special interest groups unprecedented opportunity to lobby delegates for their causes, allowing wealthy donors and corporations direct access to the amendment process.
  • Opponents say the only precedent we have to work with is the convention of 1787--which scrapped the Articles of Confederation.  With no way to enforce limits on the proceedings, sweeping changes could be made.  Are we ready to imperil fundamentals of the Constitution, particularly in our current and deeply partisan political climate?


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The Research

The Research

The Constitutional Convention 2016?

Ashley Balcerzak
January 26, 2016

Some liberals and conservatives are teaming up in an effort to rewrite the Constitution.

A constitutional convention would be a Brexit-scale crisis for the U.S.

July 7, 2016

Like Brexit, this would risk grave damage to the global economy. It would also drastically reduce America’s standing in world affairs — far more than handing the presidency to an incoherent, shop-worn reality TV star.

A Real Step to Fix Democracy

May 30, 2014

What happens when Congress itself is the problem in politics? The framers of the Constitution thought of a solution for that very problem.

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