NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Amending the Constitution through a Convention of States

December 10, 2014

Amending the U.S. Constitution typically requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress followed by ratification by three-fourths of the states. All 27 amendments to the Constitution have been passed this way. However, what many may not realize is that Article V of the Constitution sets out a second way to amend the Constitution: a Convention of States (COS). If two-thirds of the states ask Congress for a convention to propose an amendment, Congress must call one. At the convention, three-fourths of states must approve any proposed amendments.

Writing for the Patriot Post, Paul Gardiner says that lawmakers have begun calling for such a Convention in order to limit federal power, noting that allowing the states to call a COS was intended to give the states power in the event of overreach by the federal government.

Some have criticized the notion of a COS, insisting it would result in the approval of "rogue" amendments, such as eliminating the Supreme Court. But Gardiner says that such a concern is misplaced -- because ratification requires the votes of three-fourths of state legislatures (38 states), 76 different legislative bodies (both state Houses and Senates) must approve any amendment.

What sort of amendments might a COS seek to implement? Gardiner suggests term limits for members of Congress, balanced budget requirements or state overrides of burdensome federal regulations.

The United States has never had a COS, but as of April 2014, 34 states had technically called for a Convention in recent history, but many of those states had long since rescinded those calls. According to the Congressional Research Service, it is unclear whether COS applications can be rescinded or whether they expire after a certain period of time. 

Source: Paul Gardiner, "Why America Truly Needs a Convention of States," Patriot Post, December 5, 2014; Thomas H. Neale, "The Article V Convention to Propose Constitutional Amendments: Contemporary Issues for Congress," Congressional Research Service, April 11, 2014.


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