Blog note, Constitutional Law, Education, Rob Natelson

Comparing an Article V convention to a national party convention is absurd

Some alarmists are comparing an Article V convention to the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. The argument is that an amendments convention can be manipulated or stampeded just as a national party convention can be.

The comparison is absurd—so much so that it shows mostly a lack of knowledge of the Article V process.

First, consider the national party mob scenes. The 2012 Democratic convention had 5554 delegates; the GOP conclave 2286. To forestall any stampede, each was tightly time-limited and controlled from the front. Most of the delegates were not particularly distinguished: They were selected for party loyalty and because they had agreed to support a particular candidate. They had little or no effective input.

icon_blog_noteNow contrast this with the practice of multi-state conventions.

America’s last general convention of states (Washington, D.C., 1861) had 132 commissioners. All were selected as their respective state legislatures determined. In practice, most were chosen either by the legislatures themselves or by governors with the consent of one or both chambers. The commissioners were certainly not at the intellectual level of our Founding Fathers, but they were a distinguished and sophisticated group. They successfully crafted a compromise amendment that, if ratified, might well have prevented the Civil War.

Of course, there are more states now than there were in 1861, so we can expect a bigger  convention. But because each state has one vote, there is little incentive to send huge delegations.

How large  is a modern multi-state conclave likely to be? History gives us a clue.

I have been able to identify 14 official multi-state conventions since 1776. (By “official” I mean that participation was authorized by the state legislature or, in the recess of the legislature, the executive.)  The average size of each state committee has been about five. The median has been between three and four.

Thus, a reasonable estimate is that a convention for proposing amendments might contain about 250 commissioners—less than 5% the size of the Democratic National Convention. It could be even smaller if the states agreed beforehand to limit the size of their committees.

Because these commissioners will be selected by and responsible to their respective state legislatures, they, too, will be a seasoned group. They certainly will not be readily manipulated or stampeded.

Article V opponents need to stop fabricating objections and work to ensure that if a convention happens, it does so successfully.

Rob Natelson is senior fellow in constitutional jurisprudence at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.


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