The LWVUS Constitutional Amendment Study has led to two separate national positions: Considerations for Evaluating Constitutional Amendment Proposals and Constitutional Conventions under Article V of the US Constitution.
The positions were based on consensus reached by 246 local Leagues (including 15 local Leagues in Massachusetts) and state Leagues and ILOs who participated in the Constitutional Amendment Process study. Leagues from 46 states participated in the study. The positions can be used by state Leagues to address the ongoing debates in many legislatures regarding constitutional conventions, in particular as they relate to the Balanced Budget Amendment (source League Update February 4, 2016).
The League will only support a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution if it advances and conforms to an LWVUS position.
In addition, the League believes the following should be considered in identifying an appropriate and well-crafted constitutional amendment:
a) Whether the public policy objective addresses matters of such acute and abiding importance that the fundamental charter of our nation must be changed. Amendments are changes to a document that provides stability to our system and should be undertaken to address extreme problems or long-term needs.
b) Whether the amendment as written would be effective in achieving its policy objective. Amendments that may be unenforceable, miss the objective, or have unintended consequences may not achieve the policy objective.
c) Whether the amendment would either make our political system more democratic or protect individual rights. Most adopted amendments have sought to make our system more representative or to protect the rights of minorities.
d) Whether the public policy objective can be achieved by a legislative or political approach that is less difficult than a constitutional amendment. In order to expend resources wisely, it is important to consider whether legislation or political action is more likely to succeed than an amendment.
e) Whether the public policy objective is more suited to a constitutional and general approach than to a statutory and detailed approach. It is important to consider whether the goal can best be achieved by an overall value statement, which will be interpreted by the courts, or with specific statutory detail to resolve important issues and reduce ambiguity.
The League is concerned that there are many unresolved questions about the powers and processes of an Article V Constitutional Convention. The League believes such a convention should be called only if the following conditions are in place:
a) The Constitutional Convention must be transparent and not conducted in secret. The public has a right to know what is being debated and voted on;
b) Representation at the Constitutional Convention must be based on population rather than one state, one vote, and delegates should be elected rather than appointed. The delegates represent citizens, should be elected by them, and must be distributed by U.S. population;
c) Voting at the Constitutional Convention must be by delegate, not by state. Delegates from one state can have varying views and should be able to express them by individual votes;
d) The Constitutional Convention must be limited to a specific topic. It is important to guard against a “runaway convention” which considers multiple issues or topics that were not initiated by the states;
e) Only state resolutions on a single topic count when determining if a Constitutional Convention should be called. Counting state requests by topic ensures that there is sufficient interest in a particular subject to call a Convention and enhances citizen interest and participation in the process; and
f) The validity of state calls for an Article V Constitutional Convention must be determined by the most recent action of the state. If a state has enacted a rescission of its call, that rescission must be respected by Congress.
Constitutional Amendment Study Timeline
- Summer 2015: Consensus questions, study guide and educational materials posted on LWVUS website.
- Late Summer 2015-December 1, 2015: Leagues hold consensus meetings.
- December 1, 2015: Consensus reports (electronic) from Leagues due to LWVUS.
- Late January 2016: LWVUS Board meeting – consensus reports and resulting position(s), if any, approved.
Materials for the Constitutional Amendment Study
- Constitutional Amendment Study Guide: includes the Background, Foundation Readings, Consensus Questions, Points of View and Specific References for the questions.
- CA Consensus Questions Tally Sheet for Consensus Meeting: LWV Marblehead created this useful tool for the consensus meeting, for attendees and the recorder.
- The committee recommends the following book: Miracle at Philadelphia, by Catherine Drinker Bowen, about the first and only constitutional convention. LWVMA has a few copies of this book available.
- Other information
Conducting the Study in Your League
- LWVUS suggests that local Leagues can conduct the Constitutional Amendment Process (CAP) Study in one combined information/consensus meeting.
- Powerpoint to guide the consensus meeting from LWVME and LWV Oakland CA. Note: clicking on this link may download the file directly into your “downloads” folder so look for it there.
- If your League would like to have a speaker, look for someone who is familiar with the long, arduous task of getting the 19th Amendment through the process, or someone who can talk about the 18th and 21st Amendments that created and then repealed Prohibition.
- The purpose of the CA Study is to educate ourselves about the nature of amending the US Constitution.
- For information and assistance on participating in these studies contact the LWVMA Studies Steering Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.