WASHINGTON – Momentum is building behind what would be an unprecedented effort to amend the U.S. Constitution, through a little-known provision that gives states rather than Congress the power to initiate changes.
At issue is what’s known as a “constitutional convention,” a scenario tucked into Article V of the U.S. Constitution. At its core, Article V provides two ways for amendments to be proposed. The first – which has been used for all 27 amendment to date – requires two-thirds of both the House and Senate to approve a resolution, before sending it to the states for ratification. The Founding Fathers, though, devised an alternative way which says if two-thirds of state legislatures demand a meeting, Congress “shall call a convention for proposing amendments.”
The idea has gained popularity among constitutional scholars in recent years — but got a big boost last week when Michigan lawmakers endorsed it.
Michigan matters, because by some counts it was the 34th state to do so. That makes two-thirds.
In the wake of the vote, California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter pressed House Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday to determine whether the states just crossed the threshold for this kind of convention. Like Michigan lawmakers, Hunter’s interest in the matter stems from a desire to push a balanced-budget amendment — something that could potentially be done at a constitutional convention.
“Based on several reports and opinions, Michigan might be the 34th state to issue such a call and therefore presents the constitutionally-required number of states to begin the process of achieving a balanced budget amendment,” Hunter wrote.
“With the recent decision by Michigan lawmakers, it is important that the House – and those of us who support a balanced budget amendment — determine whether the necessary number of states have acted and the appropriate role of Congress should this be the case.”
If two-thirds of the states indeed have applied, the ball is presumably in Congress’ court to call the convention.
But Article V is rather vague, and it’s ultimately unclear whether 34 states have technically applied. In the past, states like Oregon, Utah and Arizona have quietly voted to approve the provision in their legislature.