“May you live in interesting times,” is a horrible curse that comes to us from China, and these certainly are interesting times. There's a political movement in the United States that I find particularly interesting, and it's worth taking a look at, and that movement is calling for a convention to propose new amendments to the Constitution of the United States. I'm not going to get into any of the specific issues driving these efforts, just look at the processes themselves.


There are two main ways to amend the Constitution and the one most familiar to Americans is when Congress adopts an amendment with a two-thirds majority in each house. The amendment then goes to the states for ratification, either by state conventions or by the state legislatures, with the amendment coming into force after three quarters of the states have ratified it.. This allows for changes to come from the top down, if you will. The citizenry exert pressure and influence on their elected representatives to enact a change in the Constitution, which is drawn up and then sent to the states for approval. Article V addresses this process, and it was put in place because the framers of the Constitution knew that things would occur that they couldn't foresee.


Article V provides for another method of proposing amendments, though, and it's the reverse direction. In this case, at least three fourths of the state legislatures must submit applications to Congress to call for a convention to propose amendments. Again, the amendments would have to be ratified by the states before coming into effect. This is what's interesting to me, because there have been efforts, off and on, for many years to call for such a convention. This method was provided as a way for the citizens to have more influence against a too powerful Congress, at least in the eyes of the Framers. There could be a move for an amendment saying, “Congress shall not be a bunch of jerks,” and while Congress might never pass such an amendment, the states could call for a convention, propose and ratify the amendment, and then it would be in force, with Congress wanted it or not. The jerks.


This is what I love about the Constitution and how it was put together. Well, one of a few things that I love about it. It was put together with stresses between different branches of government such as the legislative and executive branches, and between different levels, such as the states and the federal government. In a way, it's like building a bridge with prestressed concrete. The tensions work to keep forces balanced, and make for a stronger whole.