This might sound radical.
A lot of folks are upset about the Electoral College – not only because of how it worked in the election just past, but also because it even exists. What recourse might they have? How about a convention to amend the Constitution convened, expressly, to consign the College to history?
It sounds radical, but the pathway is there, in the Constitution itself, in the paragraph known as Article V. There you’ll find the escape hatch the Founders put in place to ensure that the power to originate amendments to the Constitution does not belong exclusively to Congress. Anticipating situations where the House and Senate would resist changes to the constitution out of self-interest – Article V empowers state legislatures – from Albany, New York, to Montgomery, Alabama, to Juneau, Alaska -- to demand “a convention for proposing amendments.” If two-thirds of the states demand it, Congress has to convene it. And then, let the proposing begin!
So far, it’s never happened (though we’ve come close a few times). One reason is fear of the unpredictable. Who knows how crazy things could get if the door was opened to a potentially wholesale rewriting of the Constitution, the result of what some predict would be an inevitable “runaway” Convention.
Others say that’s Chicken Little Stuff, that rules could be set that limit a convention in time and scope – so the conventioneers would get in and out neatly, with just a little well-targeted nip and tuck here and there, submitted to the states for approval (three-fourths required). You can see the appeal if say, you just want a fix that would undo the effects of Citizens United. Or if all you want to do is make the Constitution require a balanced budget. Or if you'd like to rewrite the Second Amendment just slightly – to remove all ambiguity on gun rights (in either direction). Or to put that pesky Electoral College out of business.
Is all this a good idea? Is the “runaway” risk real, and worth taking if it is?
That’s what we’ll be debating this Wednesday night, December 7th, in partnership with the National Constitution Center. Our motion will be:
Call a Convention to Amend the Constitution
Remember, it’s by vote of the audience that we choose our winners. And rest assured, Intelligence Squared U.S. is a one person, one vote operation. You can vote online now, and I hope to see you there.