Should We Fear a 'Runaway Convention'?: Lessons from State Constitutional Conventions
23 Pages Posted: 7 Jul 2015 Last revised: 28 Jan 2016
Date Written: May 15, 2015
This paper assesses the fear that a national United States constitutional convention held pursuant to Article V of the U.S. Constitution would be a "runaway convention" by analyzing recent state constitutional conventions.
Americans are not in the habit of holding constitutional conventions. The most recent state constitutional convention was in 1986 — almost 30 years ago. There has never been that long a period of time between state constitutional conventions in our nation’s history; the closest has been a 15-year gap around the time of the Great Depression. Perhaps in part as a result of this lack of practice, one major concern voiced in response to calls for a national constitutional convention is that it might become a "runaway convention." Another cause of that concern is that the most direct precedent for a national constitutional convention — the convention of 1787 that drafted the constitution we have today — was a runaway convention, exceeding the limits on its authority that were declared when it was called. And so one of the methods of constitutional change specified in Article V, "call[ing] a convention for proposing amendments," has gone unused.
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