Currently, there are efforts in Montana to call a constitutional convention, which could result in sweeping changes to the U.S. Constitution and harm Montana’s economy and its citizens. To understand how actions in Montana’s legislative session can alter the U.S. Constitution, it’s important to understand the constitutional convention process.
Here is what we know
Congress must call a constitutional convention once 34 states pass resolutions calling for a Convention. This would be a meeting where delegates would propose constitutional amendments. After that, under current ratification rules, 38 states are required to ratify whatever amendment(s) resulted from the convention.
In the 1970s and 1980s, many states adopted resolutions for a convention to require Congress to balance the budget annually. Half of these states later rescinded their applications.
Here is what we do not know
Since, there has only been one constitutional convention – in 1787 – when delegates wrote our constitution, there is no precedent for how an Article V convention would work. Because the Constitution provides no authority above that of a convention, it’s not clear that anyone, including the courts, can stop amendment proposals that go beyond the intentions of state resolutions. No one really knows what the rules would be, who would be responsible for assigning delegates, or how the convention would operate.
Since Congress has historically asserted its authority to determine the number and selection process for state delegates, it’s unclear to what extent Montanans would have a significant say regarding which delegates represent their interests, and Article V cannot guarantee that the will of Montanans be followed. Keep in mind that in 1787, delegates proposed new constitutional provisions well outside the scope of what the states had originally called the convention to consider. Delegates may be able to propose changes to the Second Amendment or right to free speech.
What happens now
Proponents claim that 24 states currently have active balanced budget convention resolutions and are targeting an additional 15 states, including Montana, for action in 2015. HJ 4 is one of the proposed resolutions in Montana calling for a constitutional convention related to a balanced budget amendment. It is nearly identical to the template bill produced by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a leading proponent of the convention idea.
Montana should reject any attempts to call a constitutional convention for two reasons. The first is that Montana Legislators cannot control what will happen if a constitutional convention is called. Recently, South Dakota and Utah rejected resolution efforts, in part, because legislators rightly feared that a convention – once called – could not be controlled by the states and could result in sweeping and unforeseen changes to the Constitution, the country, and their state. Montana legislators should be equally concerned about what a constitutional convention means for our state.
Second, if 34 active resolutions passed, a balanced budget amendment would have crippling effects on Montana’s economy and reduce federal funding for thousands. To learn more about how a balanced budget amendment, would impact Montanan, take a look at A Balanced Budget Amendment Threatens Montana’s Economy and our one page report Resolution Calling for a Constitutional Convention: A Threat to Montana’s Economy.
MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.