Patrick Ishmael

It's been said that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but can you remind an old dog of long-forgotten tricks? That theme (and variation) are relevant to a bill currently being debated in the Missouri legislature that would amend the U.S. Constitution and rein in federal power through a little-used section of Article V.

How would legislators do it? As our readers may know, the most commonly attempted way to amend the Constitution has been via a two-thirds vote of Congress and ratification by three-quarters of the states. But perhaps less known is that two-thirds of the states themselves can call their own constitutional conventions for the purpose of independently proposing amendments to the Constitution. As the National Archives notes, "None of the 27 amendments to the Constitution have been proposed by constitutional convention." That no amendments have been proposed in this way,  however, doesn't mean amendments can't or won't be, and if supporters of a Missouri Senate resolution have their way, the 28th Amendment will be the first of its kind to have been initiated by the states themselves.

There's a lot in the resolution itself about what it intends to do and how, but here's the heart of the resolution:

Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved by the members of the Missouri Senate, Ninety-ninth General Assembly, First Regular Session, the House of Representatives concurring therein, hereby apply to Congress, under the provisions of Article V of the United States Constitution, for the calling of a convention of the states limited to proposing amendments to the United States Constitution that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and members of Congress;

Later provisions lay out the precise nature of the convention and what it may consider—it's worth your time to read—but the key reform elements of the bill are clear enough: federal fiscal limitations, federal power limitations, and federal term limitations. Beyond that, the exact reforms are open to debate, albeit circumscribed by the reform language of the bill itself to prevent a runaway convention. Resolutions like this one have passed in ten other states and may also pass later this year in North Carolina, as well, so it's certainly an active idea nationally.

Twelve states aren't enough to initiate a convention, of course; to initiate it, thirty-four states will have to pass similar resolutions. But the objectives of the resolution here are worthwhile enough, and its prospects plausible enough, to highlight here. If the bill passes the House, Missouri would become either the 11th or 12th state to sign on to this initiative. We'll keep you posted if that happens.

About the Author

Patrick Ishmael

Patrick Ishmael is the director of government accountability at the Show-Me Institute.