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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A convention to amend the U.S. Constitution is closer to reality than most people realize.
Tennessee soon might become the 29th state to pass a resolution calling for a convention to add a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Thirty-four states are required.
The Tennessee state senate passed the convention resolution in early February; it would need to pass the state house to become official. Idaho and Arizona also are considering such proposals and could becomes Nos. 30 and 31.
Article V of the Constitution gives states the power to call a constitutional convention provided that two-thirds – 34 – agree to it. Any amendment then would need to be ratified by three-fourths of the states – that is, 38.
It would not require congressional approval.
The Constitution actually lays out two ways to amend it. The typical path involves Congress proposing amendments to the states. According to the National Archives, “none of the 27 amendments to the Constitution have been proposed by constitutional convention” – the method Tennessee soon might favor.
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“I give it a 60 percent chance in five years, because most people in Congress would like to see it happen, as well,” constitutional scholar Robert G. Natelson told The Tennessean newspaper.
Supporters of the proposal say it is needed to help solve Washington’s debt problem.
“It is time for states to step up and solve the problem with almost $20 trillion of national debt that has been amassed in Washington,” Tennessee state Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Republican, said in a press release. Kelsey authored the resolution, which calls for a “planning convention” that would draw up the rules for a new constitutional convention.
Rolling the Dice?
Critics fear that a constitutional convention could go rogue.
“There’s nothing to keep our founding document to be actually thrown out,” Tennessee state Representative Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat, said of the convention.
Opponents like Fitzhugh fear the convention could rewrite the entire constitution like the one in 1797 did, setting up a constitutional crisis.
“They were supposed to meet to make amendments to the Articles of Confederation but ended up with a whole new form of government,” Nathan Griffith, an associate professor of political science at Belmont University, told the newspaper. “Not just a new constitution, but a whole new form of government.”
Said Griffith: “You’re rolling the dice a little bit with this.”
Supporters believe that planning conventions would restrict the convention’s agenda to certain issues.
“Founding Fathers James Madison and George Mason insisted that states have a method for amending the Constitution because sometime in the future the federal government would grow to the point it would become deaf to states’ needs,” said Republican state Sen. Mike Bell.
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