California Endorses Article V Convention

Liberal Democrats in California's state legislature have endorsed a conservative proposal to use a process that is described in Article V of the U.S. Constitution to call a convention for the purpose of drafting new amendments. The proposal for an Article V convention, which has never been used since the constitution was ratified, was endorsed by conservative talk radio host Mark R. Levin in 2013 in a bestselling book, The Liberty Amendments.

There are two ways to propose constitutional amendments under Article V. One--the route followed for all of the amendments proposed and ratified in American history thus far--calls for both houses of Congress to pass amendments by a two-thirds vote, and refer those amendments to the states for passage by a three-fourths majority. The other calls for two-thirds of state legislatures to petition Congress for a convention at which new amendments would be drafted. Those amendments would then be referred back to the states for passage.

Levin suggested 11 amendments, each aimed at restoring the model of limited government at the heart of the constitution. Until now, only a few states, typically governed by conservative Republicans, have considered Levin's suggestion formally. Yet liberal Democrats began to take an interest in the idea as a way of fighting the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the 2011 Citizens United case, and restricting corporate spending in elections.

This Monday, the California State Senate adopted ARJ1, which would petition Congress to convene an Article V convention. The California State Assembly had already adopted the measure, which now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown for signature. The text of ARJ1 applies only to a convention for considering campaign finance reform, though it is not clear that the text of Article V would allow an amendment convention to be so limited in scope.

California is the second Democrat-governed state to call for an Article V convention over campaign finance reform, while 22 have called for an Article V convention for a balanced budget amendment. Earlier this month, over 100 lawmakers from 33 states attended an informal, bipartisan conference in Indiana to discuss the rules of procedure for an Article V convention. Many shared a sense that momentum is growing for the idea. 

The Article V process is different to the constitutional amendment on campaign finance reform being advocated by leading Democrats, which calls for Congress itself to pass a proposal restricting free speech as defined by the Bill of Rights and interpreted by the courts. If 34 states agree, a convention could be held in the near future.


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