June 2024 Newsletter

by | Jun 3, 2024 | AVC Newsletter | 0 comments

Herpes Simplex V: The “Runaway Convention” Myth is Like a Virus That Just Won’t Go Away 

By Vickie Deppe  

Real Clear Politics published a commentary by retired mathematician Robert Prener in which he opines on the likelihood of a “runaway convention” based on the subject matter of the applications used to call it. Prener fails to explain his methodology, but there appears to be a correlation between his perception of the scope of the convention and the probability that it “veers far askew of the original reason it was called.” 

Prener begins with a convention to propose a balanced budget amendment. He claims that the scope of this convention would be “wide” and therefore highly likely to “run away.” Forty-four states are required to balance their own budgets, so it’s clear that there is an understanding among the states about what is meant by the term “balanced budget.” Still, most of the applications contain language stipulating that except in an emergency, appropriations or expenditures must not exceed revenues…perhaps because Congress doesn’t seem to know what a balanced budget is. In any event, the assertion that this convention is “wide” in scope is absurd: there’s only one thing on the table, and the broad outlines of the amendment are stipulated in the applications. Applications for a convention to propose a term limits amendment are very similar in these respects, yet Prener somehow concludes that the chance of a term limits convention running away “approaches zero.” 

Prener is correct in his assessment that the Convention of States Project’s application is wide in scope. The only thing that wouldn’t be on the table at this convention would be additional grants of power to the federal government. This begs the question: if a “runaway convention” is one that “veers far askew of the original reason it was called,” how can a convention at which almost anything is on the table have a greater risk of “running away?” Especially when one considers that red states—characteristically disinclined to give more power to the federal government—will, for the foreseeable future, have adequate representation to thwart any amendment that increases the scope or jurisdiction of the federal government. 

Some Wolf-PAC supporters are cheered by Prener’s assessment of campaign finance reform as having a “low” chance of running away. Though campaign finance may at first glance seem like a narrow scope, a wide range of solutions have been proposed, including prohibiting out-of-district donors, stripping groups of people of their right to speak collectively, doxxing, and a federally-administered campaign funding scheme. The chances of this convention running away are low, but it’s not because the scope is—arguably—narrow. 

In reality, the safety of an Article V Convention has nothing to do with what or how much is on the table and everything to do with what we know from the Constitution, the law, history, and politics. The United States has a long history of interstate conventions, none of which has “run away.” Every state in the union sends a delegation to the Uniform Law Commission, and Vermont is the only state in the nation that is not party to at least one interstate compact—the product of an interstate convention. Nearly two dozen states have delegate selection and oversight statutes in place. This number continues to grow, along with the body of case law that helps us predict with greater and greater confidence what will happen at a Convention. 

Prener’s definitions of “wide” in scope and “high potential to run away” sound more like “could propose amendments I don’t like” than a genuinely analytical assessment of how much is on the table and an estimate of the associated risk. He’s right about one thing, though: Congress doesn’t want any of these reforms to be realized and its members will use all means at their disposal to prevent the states from imposing them. And there’s nothing like fear to derail the process. 


Article V News 

The first reports have emerged from the simulated convention for proposing amendments hosted by the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. JP Leskovich, Managing Editor of JURIST News and 3rd year law student at the University of Pittsburgh, shared observations as a participant on both the first and second days of the simulation. The students were serious and engaged, but like the Convention of States Project’s simulations, much of the agenda was pre-scripted with no apparent thought given to prioritizing amendments according to their prospects for ratification. Leskovich notes, “The fact that we need to call ‘division’ [a motion for a roll call vote instead of a voice vote] so many times showed how contentious many of these amendments were and how difficult it can be to reach a consensus.” It’s also disappointing that one of the proposals, citizenship for residents of US territories, was based on the fallacy that these residents are subjected to “taxation without representation,” when, in fact, residents of territories are not taxed by the federal government unless they are US citizens. The ASU simulation has served an important role in exposing these shortcomings—both of which may be addressed by convention rules that require supermajority votes—so missteps such as these may be avoided when a bona fide Article V Convention takes place. 


The Phoenix Correspondence Commission 

In March, the PCC hosted former Governor Mike Huckabee for a wide-ranging conversation about federalism. Find out why Governor Huckabee thinks air conditioning was one of the worst things to happen to American governance by listening to his interview here. Q&A from PCC delegates is available here. The next meeting of the PCC will take place on June 14 at 9 am Pacific/12 pm Eastern with keynote speaker Dr. David Primo. Dr. Primo is the Ani & Mark Gabrellian Professor of Political Science and Business Administration at the University of Rochester. His testimony to the House Judiciary Committee regarding a fiscal control amendment may be viewed here. To RSVP, find out whether your state is represented, or learn more about becoming a delegate, please contact Executive Director W. Bruce Lee.  


Article V Legislative Activity 

In South Carolina, H 3676, an application for a Balanced Budget Amendment was reported favorably from the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

In Pennsylvania, a Convention of States Project application passed in committee. 

Louisiana has passed an application for a convention to propose a term limits amendment. 

Maryland has passed SJ 1 calling on the federal government to recognize the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. The Missouri House has referred HCR 32 to committee. Thirty-five states ratified the ERA prior to the expiration of its sunset clause, and three more ratified after. For commentary on the constitutionality of sunset clauses with respect to the ratification of constitutional amendments, please see this article from Columbia Law School. 

A number of Delegate Selection and Oversight bills continue to progress: in Oklahoma, HJR 1017 has been signed into law. In Missouri and Ohio, HB 1442 and HB 607, respectively, have been referred to committee. In the New York Assembly and Senate, A 10115 and S 9200 have been referred to committee. The New York proposals are notable in their requirement for bipartisan participation in any delegation to an Article V Convention. In Mississippi, HC 48 died on the calendar. 

In Missouri, HCR 61, an application for a convention to repeal the 16th amendment has been assigned to committee. 



North Carolina state legislators Tim Moffitt and Dennis Riddell advocate for passage of the Convention of States Project application in The Carolina Journal. 


The West Volusia Beacon published a Letter to the Editor parroting the tired allegations of malapportionment and racism promulgated by Russ Feingold. For more detailed information on convention apportionment, please see our feature from last August, “Russ Feingold Jumps the Shark.” 


John Ramsey, Founder and Managing Executive of the Bill of Financial Responsibilities Project, has penned the essay, “Our Current Federal Fiscal Mess—What Would Thomas Paine Do? 


Constitution Boot Camp  

This month, we continue to focus on Congress with Article I, Section 9: Powers Denied Congress beginning on page 14. 


Who Said It? 

Democracy is a room full of people voting and majority wins…we don’t function that way. 

Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor 

July 28, 2022