The “Runaway Convention” Myth

The Founding Fathers were brilliant – there is no loophole.


Many hear the term “Convention for proposing Amendments to the U.S. Constitution” and believe that at such a convention, the participants would be unrestrained and could amend the U.S. Constitution in any way they saw fit.  This is simply untrue.  The U.S. Constitution clearly spells out that any proposed amendment may only be enacted if ratified by three-quarters (38) of the states.


As its name indicates, the "Convention for proposing Amendments" can only propose amendments. Any proposed amendment would have to be ratified by 38 states to go into effect. So myths of a runaway convention somehow constitutionalizing gay marriage or repealing the Second Amendment are irrational.


Some argue that since the original Constitutional Convention exceeded its mandate, there would be nothing to prevent the "Convention for proposing Amendments" from also exceeding its mandate.  However, the original Constitutional Convention was called under completely different circumstances. 


The Articles of Confederation were not working: the confederation was unworkable, states were not paying into federal coffers, and the idea of an entirely new framework was popular.  None of these conditions exist now.  Moreover, the original Constitutional Convention was followed by an intense deliberative process of ratification that took place in every state, and every state had to ratify the Constitution for it to apply to them.  States had the option of not joining the new government.  Moreover, our Constitution has a framework for amendments by the states; the states may propose amendments through the process just like Congress can propose amendments.


The “Runaway Convention” fear is preposterous. If the "Convention for proposing Amendments" proposed something radical, it would simply be ignored.  No branch of government would have any duty to follow any mandate from the "Convention for proposing Amendments," and no state legislature would ratify such a proposed amendment.


Moreover, how would the fears of the myth-believers be realized?  Under such thinking, after 34 state legislatures specifically apply to Congress for a convention for proposing the amendment to repeal Obamacare, Congress calls the convention. Then, the state legislatures send delegates to the Convention for proposing Amendments with a majority of the delegates secretly wanting to entirely rewrite the current constitution or introduce some other clandestine amendment.


Next, instead of merely settling on language for the amendment to repeal Obamacare, the delegates spend a couple of months writing a new constitution or the new amendments. Then they present it to the state legislatures who then say, “Well, we just wanted to repeal Obamacare, but what the heck, let’s go with a new constitution.”


Then, each state debates the new constitution and decides to ratify it and abandon the current one or adopt the unrequested amendment.  Presumably because there is a general consensus that, like with the Articles of Confederation, they believe the current Constitution just isn’t working.


The myth is just absurd.  The myth fears are totally unfounded and are keeping its believers from supporting the single greatest weapon against federal overreaching possessed by the states.


The "Convention for proposing Amendments" is not the same as the original Constitutional Convention. It would be a body acting for the state legislatures and used to finalize amendment language for the amendment requested by the state legislatures.  Anything coming out of the "Convention for proposing Amendments" would then have to be approved by 38 states.


The fears are unfounded.  An Article V Convention to Propose an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution may only be used to PROPOSE an amendment.  The amendment must still be RATIFIED by three-quarters of the states.



The Constitution spells out two ways to PROPOSE an amendment:


1.         Two thirds of both houses of the US Congress may propose an amendment (this is how the 27 current amendments were proposed).


2.         An Article V Convention to Propose an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (never used).


No matter which of the two methods above is used, three-quarters of the states must ratify the amendment for it to take effect.



The Constitution spells out two ways in which the states may RATIFY a proposed amendment (and the U.S. Congress picks which method is to be used):


1.         Ratification by Legislature (used in all amendments except Amendment 21).


2.         Through state conventions (used in the ratification of Amendment 21).


In either case, three-quarters of the states must ratify the amendment for it to take place.



Constitutional Conventions have been held at the state level hundreds of times.  There has never been a “Runaway.”  There is a much greater chance of a “Runaway Congress” that passes laws that fundamentally change the nation, and do so against the clear will of the people (yes, we mean Obamacare).


The Founders clearly saw that the Federal Government could become too strong and unresponsive to the people.  The Article V state-led amendment process was crafted to counter such a situation.


Other sources for information on the Article V Convention process can be found here and here.