How to Count to Thirty-Four: The Constitutional Case for a Constitutional Convention

37 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2011

Date Written: 2011


In this article, Professor Paulsen sets forth the proper method for counting to thirty-four -- the number of states needed to apply for an Article V constitutional convention, in order to trigger Congress's constitutional obligation to call one -- and applies it to the more than 400 extant submissions of the states over the past two hundred years, through the end of 2010. The rules: Article V contemplates only "unlimited" conventions for proposing amendments. State applications explicitly conditioned on the convention being limited to a certain topic or amendment language are not valid applications for a general, unrestricted constitutional convention. However, state applications reciting a subject matter purpose or agenda but not conditioned on the convention being limited to that topic, constitute valid applications for a general constitutional convention. "Limited-only" applications do not logically and necessarily repeal earlier, valid applications. And valid applications for a general convention may be cumulated over time and across subject; they do not die of their own force, but live on until repealed. Article V imposes no time deadline for cumulating convention applications.

Applying these rules -- the correct counting rules -- how close are we to the magic number of thirty-four? Professor Paulsen saves the dazzling, dizzying conclusion for the end of the article, followed by an appendix updating every state's status (lights "on" or "off" for a general constitutional convention for proposing amendments) on a state-by-state basis.

Keywords: constitution, united states constitution, constitutional law, constitutional convention, constitutional amendments

Suggested Citation

Paulsen, Michael Stokes, How to Count to Thirty-Four: The Constitutional Case for a Constitutional Convention (2011). Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 34, p. 837, 2011, U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 11-15, Available at SSRN:

Michael Stokes Paulsen (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas School of Law ( email )

MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States
651-962-4831 (Phone)

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