Many American citizens are familiar with the Constitutional amendment process to the extent they see it as exclusively within the federal legislature’s power. In fact, there is an alternate path—one that has never been successfully used. Fear of use of the alternative, though, has forced Congress into action at several critical junctures in American history.
No discussion of the Article V Convention’s utility at present would be complete without reference to Lawrence Lessig and Mark McKinnon’s work in the movement. A prominent liberal political activist and Harvard Law School professor, Lessig has been vigorously advocating the Article V Convention as a medium for change. Alongside him stands the conservative political strategist Mark McKinnon, and despite opposing political stances, Lessig and McKinnon launched the organization Call A Convention a few years ago with a shared purpose. The organization’s call-to-action is invoking Article V’s lesser-known path to amendments:
“Article V of the Constitution gives the states the power to call for a Constitutional Convention. To do so, two-thirds of the states—34 out of 50 state legislatures—must pass an application calling for a Convention. If enough states pass this simple resolution, then Congress must call a Convention so that states can propose amendments to the Constitution.”
George Mason, Virginia’s delegate to the United States Constitutional Convention in 1787 (the last time we had one), argued for this alternate route by pointing out that if the only way to amend was by the federal legislators’ consent, “they may abuse their power, and refuse their consent on that very account.” The point is highly relevant today given widespread rumors concerning Congress’s own employment perks. While several of these rumors are false, it is true that our Congressmen and women are entitled to a pension after one term of service; moreover, that pension doesn’t get taken away even if they become criminals! The most egregious example of this is the infamous Randy “Duke” Cunningham—who admitted to taking millions in bribes from defense contractors but is still receiving his pension. After the scandal broke, Senator John Kerry proposed an Act in Congress designed to revoke pensions for members of Congress who commit certain offenses. A noble effort, but of course, it didn’t pass.
Therein lies the problem. Congress has become the big, broken arm in this country that serves large corporations with special interests rather than the American people with broad interests. Perhaps the most convenient trick Congress has carried out on Americans is using their ‘endorsements’ to pit Tea Partiers against Occupiers of Wall Street. Why? Because a united front is the only way we can change the system once and for all—the system that favors Congress.
To learn more about Article V Conventions, check out this op-ed by Lessig and McKinnon over at The Daily Beast.