There have been calls for the States to convene to make changes to the United States Constitution. Article V of the Constitution provides:
“The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner Affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.”
The first question to ask is: why is a constitutional convention necessary?
There are people on the Right wing who want a convention.
In Florida, a Republican lawmaker has said he wants a convention to limit the power of the Federal government. The same article notes similar resolutions have been offered in Tennessee and South Carolina. Republican Governor John Kasich of Ohio wants a constitutional convention in order to pass a “balanced-budget” amendment. OhioWatchdog.org, 8/16/13. Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has called for a constitutional convention to limit individuals’ right to marriage. Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma thinks a constitutional convention would be a good idea because a new Constitution could reduce the size of the Federal government.
Other people might want a convention to overturn Roe v. Wade. Some might want to shore up any cracks they perceive in the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms (maybe so that bazookas and nuclear weapons finally are covered). There have been calls for repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment. That Amendment established popular election of United States Senators, whereas previously senators were chosen by the legislature of each State. Art. III, Sec. 3.
There are people on the Left wing, as well, who have called for a constitutional convention. Vermont became the first State, in this latest go-round, to pass a resolution to call for such a convention. vtdigger.org, 05/02/14. The reason given was to reverse the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 588 U.S. 310 (2010). California also has called for a convention. Cenk Uygur, of The Young Turks, started Wolf PAC to raise funds to mobilize people to call for a convention to un-do the decision in Citizens United.
There are a great many reasons to criticize provisions of the Constitution. However, if there are criticisms of individual aspects of the Constitution, the appropriate means to resolve the criticism would be amendment.
A second question to ask is: what is the risk of a constitutional convention being held?
Former United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote, in 1983: “...there is no effective way to limit or muzzle the actions of a Constitutional Convention. The Convention could make its own rules and set its own agenda. Congress might try to limit the Convention to one amendment or to one issue, but there is no way to assure that the Convention would obey. After a Convention is convened it will be too late to stop the Convention if we don’t like its agenda.”
Former United States Court of Appeals Judge Robert Bork wrote, in 1990: “...a federal constitutional convention could not be limited to a single issue ... the original Philadelphia Convention went well beyond the purposes for which it was called.
The 1787 Convention is the only precedent to which we can look for how such a convention functions. In February, 1787, the United States Congress, operating under the Articles of Confederation, called for a convention of delegates to meet in May in Philadelphia “for the sole purpose of revising the articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations therein as shall appear ... Necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union.”
There was no mention of wholesale replacement of the Articles of Confederation. The “sole” purpose was to revise the Articles of Confederation and to report such alterations back to Congress. We safely can say the 1787 Convention went far beyond this charter. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton had been two of the 12 delegates at the Annapolis Convention, held the previous September, who saw the need for a strong central government. Their ideas were at odds with those of Patrick Henry, who later was chosen as a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention but refused to go because he “smelt a rat”—i.e., he thought the Convention would go beyond its authority and create discard entirely the Articles of Confederation.
Thus the only precedent we have for a Constitutional Convention, as well as learned authority, indicate there can be no limits on such a convention, States’ resolutions and acts of Congress to the contrary.