Constitutional Convention - limits?

The huge inter-state disparity in Senate representation - with citizens of Wyoming having an almost 70-fold larger representation per person than those of California - is prompting some to advocate amending the constitution in an attempt to address such inequality.

One of the concerns I’ve heard raised when the topic of amending the Constitution is discussed, is the potential for a so-called ‘runaway convention’ - where, even if a Constitutional Convention has been convened ostensibly for the purpose of adding or modifying a single specific, limited amendment, there is nothing to stop multiple additional proposals from being raised, voted on, and possibly passed.

Seems to me this is a real concern given that many states and their citizens appear to be genuinely enamored at this time with enshrining what seem to be overtly biased laws and policies. A Convention would therefore provide them with a unique and unchallengeable opportunity to do so.

Am I wrong about the potential for this type of outcome?

The Senate was designed to give equal representation to each state, and the House of Representatives gives equal representation to the residents of the states. They are supposed to counterbalance each other.

Any amendment proposed by a convention would still need to be ratified by three-fourths of the states.

True, but even so, is it far-fetched that those 3/4 might do something the other 1/4 finds intolerable? How many states at present might form a block of sorts with respect to, say, certain aspects of culture, or abortion, etc.? It can’t be too far from 3/4, can it? (although I suppose even being one or two states short might present an insurmountable barrier)

The only way to get rid of the equal-weight-for-each-state Senate is to scrap the entire Constitution and start over from scratch. If that’s your goal, then there’s no such thing as “going too far”, since no amount of “far” is “too”.

My opinion is no, there is nothing “intolerable” that would pass 3/4 of the states. What did you have in mind?

Perpetuating the current senator allocation.
No term limits ever for all Federal judges.
Establishing a state religion (or religious principles: ‘ALL human life is sacred’)
There are only two sexes and “marriage” demands a union of one and only one of each.
Overruling Marbury.
You get the idea.

  1. That’s an unamendable part of the Constitution anyways. And a good part.
  2. 38 will vote for that?
  3. 38 will vote that?
  4. 38 will vote for that? Maybe 20.
  5. 0 will vote that that.

Yes, amending the Constitution to give states proportional representation in the Senate is forbidden under Article V, which, in describing how the Constitution may be amended, specifically states that, “no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.”

So you can’t amend the Constitution to give more populous states more representation in the Senate. You would have to scrap the whole thing and start over, and the Constitution does not provide a mechanism for how it might be entirely replaced.

You could amend Article V to remove that phrase. Then you could do a subsequent amendment to actually do it.

Well, the Acting AG is on record as supporting its overturning.

I’m not so sure about that. I could see the courts reject an amendment to change that phrase, unless every state consented. Removing that phrase is tantamount to reducing a state’s Senate representation, and the courts don’t have to be shortsighted.

I misread the thread title and the amendment process. I was unaware that the Acting A.G. could ratify amendments.

We have a really effective poison pill written into our constitution and it will take a total collapse before we can modernize the creaky old bastard.

Ask yourselves this – if we picked 100 constitutional and legal scholars at random and asked them to design a new constitution for us from scratch, do we think they’d come up with anything similar to what we have now? In light of what we’ve learned over 242 years and the experiences of other nations?

I’m trying to envision a scenario where only 12 or fewer of the smaller states stand in the way of an amendment that in any way reduces the Senate’s power, or modifies in any way their equal representation there.

Nah, can’t do it.

It’s trivially easy to do an end run around that provision with an amendment that would (for example) stipulate that the powers and duties of the Senate, in their entirety, shall henceforth be to select one federal building each year to be named after Ronald Reagan*. As long as every state had an equal say in that determination, the Article V provision is clearly satisfied.

Of course, there’s still the matter of actually getting such an amendment ratified, but at least there’s no explicit prohibition to prevent it.

*See, I’m bending over backwards to be bipartisan here!

But what’s in it for the smaller states? You’re going to end up with something like the Connecticut Compromise as long as we have semi-sovereign states and a Federal government. Smaller states like Wyoming and South Dakota are not about to give up their current power just so some city dwellers in a relatively small handful of states can get MORE power based on population.

And considering that the US system is kind of unique in the sense that the States are the fundamental unit that the system is based on (in the beginning the States delegated certain power to the Federal government, and not the other way around)

So it’s unlikely that you could convene a Constitutional Convention and get anything done that would abolish states. Without that, you’re going to have to have SOME way of ensuring that the States themselves are represented independent of their population (i.e. the Connecticut Compromise).

What this hypothetical convention might be able to accomplish would be to possibly replace the EC with something else.

You’re definitely bending. Not sure about the backwards part. :smiley:

I think there are at least a couple ways we could do an end run around that. We could amend the Constitution to alter the powers of the Senate, to make it a ceremonial advisory body with little to no power, like the House of Lords in the UK. All or most of the powers currently vested in the Senate would be given to the House of Representatives.

Another approach, more questionable but I think viable, is to abolish the Senate entirely. If a State complains about being deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate, we can reply “Actually you do have equal suffrage. Each State has zero Senators.”

You could also split larger states into multiple smaller states. I doubt they’d want to do so.