America’s Future Needs a Convention of States to Amend the Constitution

Danny de Gracia | December 17, 2019 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

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The father of America’s nuclear navy, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, once characterized how new ideas are often resisted by telling a story of how the ancient Locrians once allowed anyone to speak their mind or propose any law they so desired, with the precondition that they did it wearing a noose around their neck. If the speaker’s ideas were accepted, they would be passed into law; if rejected, they would be hanged for disturbing the peace.

While today’s Western world will never hang people for the crime of being unpopular, conformity, tradition, and familiarity sit as judge, jury, and executioner for many new ideas that need to be tried in the great experiment we call the United States of America. One great idea that has been offered and quashed many times over is the proposal to have an Article V Convention of States to amend our U.S. Constitution. Nevertheless, as America continues to face new challenges and grow in the 21st century, the ability for the people to amend our nation’s governing document will be essential to remaining relevant in the future.

What is an Article V convention of states? 

While most people are familiar with Congress’ authority to write laws and propose amendments to the Constitution, the founders did not want to leave the States and people powerless and without any way of checking the Federal government. As a result, Article V of our Constitution provides for states to initiate a constitutional convention when two-thirds of the state legislatures (34 states) shall call for a convention for proposing amendments.

To date, 15 legislatures have passed qualified applications out of the 34 needed to proceed to a convention. If it should ever occur that the minimum number of applications are enacted by the states and transmitted to Congress, a convention will begin with each state electing delegates to represent them. 

At a constitutional convention, delegates would have the opportunity to introduce, debate, and vote on amendments to the Constitution. Proposed amendments that successfully clear the convention would then need to be ratified by three-fourths of the states (38 states) in order to be enacted as a new law of the land.

But why amend the Constitution?

Many people have a “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” view of the Constitution, and others still believe that Congress alone should have the power to amend the laws of the land. Fears that opening up the Constitution to a convention of states could result in radical changes that might remove key civil liberties like freedom of expression or the right to vote have frequently been invoked by detractors. However, the fact remains that the founders intentionally left the option for states and the people to amend the Constitution, and this provision should not be allowed to languish without ever being visited in our modern times.

It has been 232 years since the last constitutional convention in the United States. When the Constitution was written, the world was separated by vast oceans that took months to navigate, human and animal labor powered most of civilization, and warfare was waged with muskets and massed armies. Today, humanity has mastered splitting atoms, landing probes on deep space comets, and has the power to completely annihilate civilization through war or climate change. 

We live now in a world where the rise of artificial intelligence may present challenges to humans that our present constitution is not capable of addressing. We also stand at the precipice of human expansion to other planets, as technology leaders like Elon Musk look for ways to soon land and establish human colonies on Mars. More concerning of all, even as we witness amazing scientific and technological advances, in the United States, we are also experiencing one of the greatest economic shifts in human history as the gap widens between rich and poor, haves and have nots.

The titanic changes that have occurred since the American Revolution demand a discussion about the Constitution in our 21st century. Congress, which has shown deadlock and repeated impasses in core functions of governance such as passing a budget, has demonstrated itself to be unreliable and handicapped by partisanship when it comes to a strategic vision of America’s future.

It is for these reasons that the people of America and the states must take initiative and boldly address the questions of our times with a constitutional convention. Yes, this nation may be collectively placing its head in a noose to propose changes to our way of life, but to remain fixed and dependent on the formula of centuries past can only result in stagnation and death of our Republic in the future.

I for one believe, as the founders did, that people can and should be trusted to alter or abolish government in order to effect their life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness. We cannot depend on Congress alone; as Patrick Henry once said, “Show me that age and country where the rights and liberties were placed on the sole chance of their rulers being good men, without a consequent loss of liberty?”

In 2020, every state legislature that has not yet passed a resolution to call for a convention should do so. We should remember that America began as an experiment, and continued experimentation is the key to great discovery.


Danny de Gracia, Th.D., D.Min., M.A., is an ordained minister, internationally published author, science fiction novelist, and a former committee clerk for the Hawaii State House of Representatives.

The MAHB Blog is a venture of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Questions should be directed to joan@mahbonline.org.

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The views and opinions expressed through the MAHB Website are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the MAHB. The MAHB aims to share a range of perspectives and welcomes the discussions that they prompt.
  • trilemmaman

    Wow! By chance I was listening to Cspan today regarding the Trump impeachment…and it hit me. Our current mess and the growing government dysfunction prior to Trump’s election solidified in my mind that ‘we the people’ of the US are incapable of governing ourselves. (For a number of reasons). The US experiment has failed. For nearly a decade I’ve been writing about the inherent flaws in the US Constitution as it is while watching any attempt to amend it quickly fail. The pace of technological change passed our governments capacity for action about twenty years ago…if not earlier.
    I discovered Abraham Lincoln’s words early this year and they were like a flash of bright light (enlightenment) regarding our government’s greatest failure – from the start. They engineered a Constitution and failed to abide by the fundamental principles they honored in the Declaration of Independence. That led to a civil war that killed more Americans than all the wars our nation has fought in since then…combine!!! Lincoln said that our ‘Declaration’ was our “Apple of Gold” and our Constitution its “Frame of Silver”. That in a nut shell is the problem – and the answer. We have worshiped the Constitution instead of the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God”…the self-evident truths that both political parties and leaders we have persistently ignored. The majority of citizens in our nation are unwilling to change their minds…or our governments architecture…without first experiencing catastrophic consequences. The Declaration of Independence alluded to this possibility. …”accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed.”
    We will not change anything until there is a “Long train of abuses” in today’s words ‘catastrophic consequences’. Buckle up! Things are going to get a lot worse ….before a majority wises up.

    Below are some quotes that may be useful for those of us who will keep trying to change things before it’s too late.

    “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”* Thomas Jefferson

    “There is some things in the world we can’t change – gravity, entropy, the speed of light, and our biological nature that requires clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy and biodiversity for our health and well being. Protecting the biosphere should be our highest priority or else we sicken and die. Other things, like capitalism, free enterprise, the economy, currency, the market, are not forces of nature, we invented them. They are not immutable and we can change them. It makes no sense to elevate economics above the biosphere.” David Suzuiki

    “The ultimate end of all revolutionary social change is to establish the sanctity of human life, the dignity of man, the right of every human being to liberty and well-being.” — Emma Goldman

    “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” – Albert Einstein

    “Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw

    The human brain is a complex organ with the wonderful power of enabling man to find reasons for continuing to believe whatever it is that he wants to believe. Voltaire

    “If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence.” – Bertrand Russell, Roads to Freedom

    “Humanity’s most valuable assets have been the non-conformists. Were it not for the non-conformists, he who refuses to be satisfied to go along with the continuance of things as they are, and insists upon attempting to find new ways of bettering things, the world would have known little progress, indeed.” — Josiah William Gitt Source: Gazette and Daily, 2 February 1957

    “Every great historic change has been based on nonconformity, has been bought either with the blood or with the reputation of nonconformists.” Ben Shahn (1898-1969) Source: Atlantic Monthly, September 1957

    “A revolution is coming – a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough – but a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability.” – Robert F. Kennedy – [Report to the United States Senate on his trip to Latin America and the Alliance for Progress, May 9-10 1966]”

    I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination. Jimmy Dean

    “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” Eric Hoffer – Longshoreman, Philosopher

    “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new” Socrates

    “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” — George Bernard Shaw

    Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential vital quality for those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.” – Robert F. Kennedy

    It is as if we are trapped in a death spiral with a map that only takes us in circles. We persistently ignore the exit signs because we insist on believing in the map we have in hand.
    “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ~Buckminster Fuller

    “In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete. That, in essence, is the higher service to which we are all being called.” ~ Buckminster Fuller

  • Michael Mielke

    Danny,

    In part you said “the ability for the people to amend our nation’s governing document will be essential to remaining relevant in the future.”

    Would that were true!!!

    Relevance will be determined whether we decide to salvage and save some of us and some of the creatures we live with, or……….. whether we decide to continue this comprehensive extinction spasm and eliminate not only civilization, but intelligent life and most of the rest of life with us.

    Michael

  • Doug

    That’s the scariest and worst Thing I can think of at the current time

  • Eric Lee

    Okay, let’s rewrite the constitution starting with the preamble:

    We (the Representatives of) the Organisms of Biosphere Earth, in Order to form a more Sustainable Life Support System, establish Long-term Prosperity, insure Diversity, provide for the Planetary Commons, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Long-term Blessings of Maximum Empower to Life, ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United Federation of Watersheds of Earth.

    And continue: http://www.sustainable.soltechdesigns.com/constitution/index.php