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A Constitutional Convention: What it means for our state and union

JOSHUA DAUSENER, Copy Editor

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The Iowa Senate recently filed Senate Joint Resolution 8, calling for a constitutional convention of the states to propose amendments to the United States Constitution. The Senate resolution follows a 2017 resolution by the Iowa House, making the Iowa legislature the 28th of the required 34 to hold a constitutional convention.

The resolution cited an expansion of the federal government’s power since the United States’ founding and deficit spending as the reasoning for requesting a convention.

According to the resolution, the Iowa legislature aims to use a convention to “impose fiscal restraints, and limit the power of the federal government, and requesting Congress to similarly propose such amendments.”

Procedures to amend the Constitution are outlined in Article V, where two paths to amending the Constitution are forged. The first is the method by which all 27 amendments to the American Constitution have been added; a proposed amendment or amendments are passed by two-thirds of both chambers of Congress and ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures.

The second is the never-before-used convention method.

Two-thirds of American state legislatures must petition for a convention in order for one to take place, but according to UNI Political Science Department Head Donna Hoffman, what would happen after that is largely unclear.

“The Constitution says that we could use this, but this Constitution doesn’t say very much about it,” Hoffman said. “And that’s one of the reasons why we’ve never totally progressed to actually having that method, because there’s a lot left to the imagination.”

The only historical precedent that exists for an American constitutional convention is the convention held in 1787. The convention was called to revise the Articles of Confederation, but instead the Articles were scrapped and replaced with a brand-new document: the U.S. Constitution.

“That is why the lack of specificity in terms of what a Constitutional Convention today would look like, has really kept it from being used in some ways,” Hoffman said. “A lot of the efforts where states have actually passed something to send to Congress that says ‘we call for you to do a convention,’ they try to limit it to a specific topic. It’s not clear that that’s binding […] Even if it were binding, there’s still not an agreement on: Do states get one vote? Do states get the number of votes in their congressional delegation? The rules governing a constitutional convention are open. Because again, historically, we have one example. I’m a little leery whether you could bind a convention, because there is no authority about a convention.”

The expansion of federal authority and fiscal priorities within Iowa’s resolution are not the only justifications provided by convention activists. Other convention issues include imposing Congressional term limits and campaign finance reform, according to Hoffman.

“[The Iowa resolution] is a conservative effort, but there are liberals who would love to amend the Constitution and do things for campaign finance reform,” Hoffman said.

The implications of a convention are large; however, the odds of one taking place are relatively slim, despite the addition of Iowa’s voice to the call to hold a convention.

“I don’t think [the odds of holding a convention] are strong, because of the ambiguity,” Hoffman said. “But they’re also not zero.”

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A Constitutional Convention: What it means for our state and union