Idaho may soon join the states that are petitioning Congress for a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution. Supporters of a convention deeply believe that the words of the Constitution matter, a conviction shared by the recently departed Justice Antonin Scalia. Before supporting a constitutional convention, Idahoans should know what Justice Scalia said on the subject in 2014: “I certainly would not want a constitutional convention. Whoa! Who knows what would come out of it?”
Scalia worried because the Constitution says little on the subject. It says that Congress “shall call” a convention when petitioned by legislatures in two-thirds (today 34) of the states; constitutional amendments proposed by that convention take effect when ratified by three-fourths (today 38) of the states.
The Constitution does not address how to control a convention. As former Chief Justice Warren Burger explained, “Congress might try to limit the convention to one amendment or one issue, but there is no way to assure that the convention would obey.” States could try to limit their delegates’ authority at a convention, but enforcing those limits could prove impossible. Given the real risk of a runaway convention, we should side with Justice Scalia and just say, “Whoa.”
Richard H. Seamon, Moscow