The Congressional Research Service (CRS), known as “Congress’s think tank”, has recently sent two reports concerning the Article V Convention to their chief audience-members of Congress and their staff.
Entitled, “The Article V Convention for Proposing Constitutional Amendments: Historical Perspectives for Congress (July 10, 2012) and Contemporary Issues for Congress (July 9, 2012),” the confidential reports were made available on the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Governmental Secrecy webpage.
The Article V Convention (AVC) is a method to amend the constitution by bypassing Congress-an action more and more Americans are prone to support as confidence in the Federal government has plummeted to all-time lows.
Congress has repeatedly been lambasted by abysmal approval ratings, but a record-low 10% was recorded by Gallop in early 2012-with a whopping “86% of Americans disapproving of our Federal legislature’s performance.”
People are waking up to the fact that the well-traveled road of electoral and party politics is where good ideas go to die, and consequently, more voters are choosing to self-identify as independents.
A recent Rasmussen poll from late June 2012 found that 53% of likely U.S. voters say that, “neither party in Congress is the party of the American people”-an all time-high.
Occupied Tea Partying
The compound effects of this overwhelming dissatisfaction with Congress has contributed to the birth of contrarian and anti-establishment movements such as the Tea Party in 2009, and the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. Although the Occupy Wall Street movement has largely steered clear from traditional electoral politics-in many respects, both the Tea Party and Occupy movements have either been marginalized or made subservient to the interests of the status quo.
To date, neither the Tea Party nor the Occupy movements have succeeded in coercing substantive changes in the way the Federal government conducts the business of the people.
Sadly, Washington is still home to the “best democracy money can buy.”
Enter the AVC
Time after time, traditional efforts toward political action have been co-opted, stymied or blocked, and organizations like the Friends of the Article V Convention (FOAVC) advocate for a new front to be opened, where new possibilities and real hope for change can flourish.
The frustrations born from a lack of representation in Congress have led activists from across the political spectrum to pursue untried measures, namely, the Article V Convention which bypasses corrupt Federal political processes.
“FOAVC states on its website, “Are you aware that we are being denied our constitutional right to an Article V Convention to propose amendments, despite a whopping 400+ (or more) Article V applications from the state legislatures of 49 of all 50 states? Only 34 are required. So why has Congress ignored the Constitution?”
FOAVC’s position is that not only has the requirement been met to trigger the Article V Convention as early as 1911, but that Congress has cynically disregarded their constitutional duty to call the convention in favor of protecting a de facto monopoly power over the amendatory function. This puts members of Congress in a legal quandary as they’ve all sworn an oath to “support and defend” the U.S. Constitution, and yet-if FOAVC’s position is correct-have brazenly ignored the direct and simple command of Article V, thereby violating their oaths of office, a felony criminal offense.
Joel Hirschhorn of FOAVC stated, “…Congress never wanted to share the constitutional power to propose constitutional amendments. The public should know that the reason this part of the Constitution has never been used is not because of lack of interest by the states or of citizens, but because of Congress.”
The growing support and awareness of Article V has prompted the Congressional Research Service to generate two white papers on the implications of this untapped resource being utilized.
“The author of the reports, Thomas H. Neale states, “…the evidence of the founder’s actions at the 1787 Constitutional Convention suggests that they intended the Article V Convention as a “way around” a Congress unwilling to consider an amendment or amendments that enjoyed broad support.”
To wit, the Founders and Framers placed the convention method in the heart of the U.S. Constitution to provide the people with a means to exercise their right to “alter or abolish” when the Washington establishment has shown itself to be largely ineffective, tone deaf and unresponsive to needs of the people and nation.
Neale credits the rise of social media and information technology with creating a political environment where the speedy emergence of a movement toward an Article V Convention could become a very real possibility.
Popular ideas such as–
•Balanced budget amendment
•Repealing the legal doctrine of corporate personhood
•Securing the vote by providing open-source and independent verification of ballot results
•Campaign finance laws with teeth / public financing of campaigns
— have all been given lip service by the powers that be, but no real movement has occurred to pass these common-sense ideas into law. Amendment ideas with broad support could be visited at a convention, bringing the nation into an empowering dialog and debate-but these amendment proposals would never become law unless they’ve succeeded at garnering significant bi-partisan support from the various state legislatures (see Article V Primer below). This requirement within Article V for amendments to have broad political support absolutely debunks the oft-repeated canard of a “runaway convention.”
The CRS white papers also point to the fact that Congress or the National Archives have never kept a record of state applications for an AVC, forcing the government to rely on the Friends of the Article V Convention’s independent research of the Congressional Record.
From 2008, FOAVC sponsored its own investigation of the nation’s Congressional Record tallying the hundreds of applications that have been submitted-
“…this organization’s list is evidently the only comprehensive compilation of state applications. Neither Congress, which receives state applications for an Article V Convention, nor the National Archives, which is the custodian of most congressional documents, retains the applications in an organized collection.” ~ Congressional Research Service report on Article V Convention
Hirschhorn, co-founder of FOAVC and a former congressional staffer, commented on the government’s seemingly purposeful negligence, “…that Congress never established a mechanism for assembling state applications for a convention nor passed any law directly on the Article V convention means that Congress intentionally wanted to diminish the importance of the Article V convention option and reduce the likelihood of ever using it… …the new CRS reports sidestep the most crucial issue of all, namely, whether or not a sufficient number of state applications have actually already been submitted and, if so, that Congress has disobeyed the Constitution!”
An Article V Convention Primer
Article V of the constitution provides two methods for amending the U.S. Constitution.
The first is by a vote of two-thirds of both the U.S. House and Senate to pass an amendment, which then needs three-fourths of the states to ratify the amendment into law, thereby affixing it to the supreme law of the land. This process has occurred 27 times in the history of our nation.
The second method is through an Article V Convention, which is called into session when two-thirds of the states have applied for one (a threshold that’s already been met).
The convention debates different ideas and then votes on them. Aspiring amendments that have been successfully passed by the convention then need to follow the same track as the first amendatory method-ratification by three-fourths of the states. This strict requirement prevents any extreme or radical proposals from surviving-the Founders would not have been so shortsighted as to place a self-destruct switch in the center of their masterpiece.