Last month the Michigan state legislature approved a resolution calling for a new constitutional convention to rewrite the U.S. Constitution. About 20 other states have recently voted to do so as well, but at least one scholar thinks that number is 34 because of really old votes to do so from decades ago:
Article V requires Congress to authorize a convention when 34 states have called for an amendment on the same topic, but that threshold has never been reached.
Conventional wisdom suggests — and supporters repeatedly stated — that by adopting its resolution, Michigan had joined more than 20 other states with similar applications.
But Michigan may unknowingly have been the 34th state to call for a federal balanced budget amendment, according to at least one constitutional scholar. A California Congressman is asking U.S. House Speaker John Boehner to consider the argument and explore whether a convention should be called.
The dispute hinges on an apparently untested legal question: Can a state rescind an application after petitioning Congress?
“There is a school of thought — scholars are very divided on the subject — that once a state Legislature has said ‘yes’ to an Article V Convention, it is without the ability to then turn around and change it’s mind and say, ‘No, we don’t want that any more,” said Gregory Watson, a constitutional expert who works as a staffer in the Texas House.“The issue has never been brought before a federal court, and that’s why I think perhaps, maybe, possibly someone somewhere — not necessarily in Michigan — could file a lawsuit in a federal court claiming that the 34-state threshold has indeed been met.”
There has never been a constitutional convention, but about a dozen states had voted for one way in the past. Do those votes still represent the view of the state legislatures in which almost no one who voted for the convention the first time is still serving? I doubt the courts would say yes. And I certainly hope they don’t. I have a list of changes I’d like to see made to the Constitution myself, but opening a constitutional convention means there are no limits at all one what can be done and that scares the shit out of me.