Who’s Afraid of a Runaway Convention?

by Adam Freedman

There are some great ideas floating around for constitutional amendments: for example, a line-item veto, a federalism amendment, and a “repeal amendment” (allowing states to repeal federal legislation) that I’m partial to.

The only realistic chance of achieving any of these things is to have two-thirds of the state legislatures call for a convention to amend the Constitution — as Article V of the Constitution allows. The only other method requires getting two-thirds of both houses of Congress to agree — not likely. Over at The American Spectator, Philip Klein has a thoughtful piece asking, Why are so many people afraid of calling a convention? Smart people, both right and left, get very nervous about an amending convention — the common theme seems to be fear of a “runaway convention” that ends up proposing all sorts of crazy things.

As Klein demonstrates, the “runaway convention” fear is probably fanciful, since anything proposed by a convention would still have to be approved by three-fourths of the state legislatures, and would be subject to judicial review. But the best response comes from Prof. Randy Barnett:

We now have a runaway Congress,” he said. “What’s worse, a convention that can be checked in numerous ways — not just one way, but many ways — or the runaway Congress we now have? We have a clear and present danger of the runaway Congress.

So, come on, is anybody really afraid of a runaway convention?

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