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The Right Note: A Constitutional Convention?

by Mark Kelly February 5, 2015 at 1:00 pm 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyAcross America, there is a move to encourage states to call for a Constitutional Convention. That debate has moved to our General Assembly in Richmond.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution states in part:

The Congress, whenever two-thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, . . .

This means a minimum of 34 states would be required to petition Congress to set a date and venue for new Constitutional Convention. Any proposed amendments would then need to be ratified by 38 states.

Much of the beauty of our Constitution is in its simplicity, both in length and wording. Its 4,000 plus words have rarely been amended since it was drafted in 1787. By comparison, the European Constitution contains over 156,000 words, the King James Bible contains over 780,000 words, and the tax code and regulations are over 4 million words and counting. Nothing about the tax code or regulations can be argued to be simple or straightforward.

Amending the Constitution is serious business, which is why our Founding Fathers had the wisdom to make it difficult. In fact, our Constitution has never been amended as a result of a Constitutional Convention subsequent to its ratification.

Proponents, who tend to be on the conservative side of the political spectrum, are pushing for a balanced budget amendment and limitations on executive power, among other things. Their fiercest opposition also seems to be among conservatives who do not want to open up the Constitution to mischief by states that would send liberal contingents to a convention. And if my email inbox is any indication, both the proponents and critics are extremely passionate about their positions.

Whatever your view, there really seems to be no path to finding 34 states to petition for an Article V convention — at least not in the near future.

At the same time, a public debate about how, when and why to amend the Constitution is a healthy thing. If nothing else, maybe it has caused Virginia, birthplace of its primary author, to take a second look at the Constitution and to think about what it would mean to amend it. Hopefully more than a few teachers viewed it as an opportunity to use current events to study one of the best foundational documents ever written.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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