Testimony for House Hearing on Threat of Article V Constitutional Convention

Common Cause’s Stephen Spaulding to testify Before House Judiciary Subcommittee

Today at 2:00 p.m. ET, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government will hold a hearing on “Examining Proposed Constitutional Amendments,” including to review Article V of the Constitution and proposed amendments. Stephen Spaulding, Common Cause Vice President for Policy & External Affairs, will be testifying on the dangers inherent in calling an Article V constitutional convention. His written testimony submitted in advance of the hearing focuses on the risks and unpredictability of calling a constitutional convention but initially emphasizes the manner the nation has relied upon to amend the Constitution more than two dozens times in the past.

Pursuant to Article V, the Constitution has been amended 27 times in our history. For the entirety of the Constitution’s existence, each time we have amended it, Congress has sent proposed amendments to the states after it passed them by two-thirds of the House and Senate. This process provides certainty and predictability to the process of amending our founding charter.

In emphasizing the threat of a constitutional convention, Spaulding’s testimony points out that this year alone Common Cause has tracked more than 124 bills in 42 states that involve either calls to convene a constitutional convention or to rescind previous calls for a convention. His testimony outlines three of the greatest threats posed by a constitutional convention.

First, even if it is purportedly called to address a single issue, there are no rules to limit the scope of a constitutional convention to protect us from big, permanent changes to our constitutional rights that could set our country back.

Second, there is an extraordinary risk that secretive wealthy special interests—the same ones that pump millions of dark money into our elections—will use a constitutional convention to rig the rules in their favor and take power from the people.

And third, it puts at grave risk the rights and liberties that are enshrined in the Constitution.

Spaulding makes the point that those from across the political spectrum have warned of the dangers posed by a convention and noted a complete absence of guardrails on the process once a convention is called. The testimony cites warnings of a runaway convention from prominent legal figure over the years, including Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice Warren Burger, and former U.S. Solicitor General Archibald Cox (who chaired Common Cause from 1980 to 1992).

His testimony points to the deep-pocketed special interests, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), that have for years worked to pass calls in the states to convene a convention in order to pursue a balanced budget act amendment to the constitution. He emphasizes that proponents cite 28 states that have active calls for a convention to pass a balanced budget amendment and that only the work of Common Cause and our allies to rescind calls in eight states have kept that effort from reaching the required 34 states to convene a convention. Spaulding goes on to outline the dangerous impact of a balanced budget act amendment.

A balanced budget amendment would have a deleterious effect on our nation’s economy. Such an amendment would trigger tax and program cuts that could spark an economic crisis and tip our nation into recession. It could force significant cuts to Social Security, military retirement benefits, and other important public services. The amendment could tie the hands of the federal government from responding to crises such as an economic downturn, natural disaster, an international conflict, and the next pandemic. In 1997, when Congress seriously considered a federal balanced budget, more than 1,000 economists—including 11 Nobel laureates—issued a joint statement calling it “unsound and unnecessary.” It would be destabilizing, plain and simple.

Spaulding’s testimony closes with a warning that if a convention is convened, anything and everything in the Constitution would be threatened.

All of our constitutional rights and liberties would be on the table and up for debate. Many of the proponents of a convention want to repeal the progress we have made over the last century that are already under attack–racial justice, access to healthcare, reproductive freedom, climate justice, the freedom to vote, and the right to marry who we love to name just a few.

The hearing will take place at 2:00 p.m. in room 2141 of the Rayburn House Office Building

To read Spaulding’s full written testimony to the Committee, click here.

To watch the hearing, “Examining Proposed Constitutional Amendments,” on the Committee website, click here.