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I am trying to understand the process of amending the U.S. Constitution. I believe I understand the usual process of amendments (2/3 of Congress, 3/4 of state legislatures), but I don't quite get how conventions work.

In order to find out, I found Article 5 (relevant parts are bolded):

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

I would guess that these conventions are large gatherings, but I was wondering several things about them:

  • Who participates in these conventions?
  • How are conventions for proposing amendments different from those meant to ratify amendments?
  • How is it decided whether an amendment is ratified at the convention. (majority? supermajority?)
  • How are conventions conducted?
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2 Answers 2

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There are some grey areas because there haven't ever been conventions for amendments. The first part is pretty straightforward, if two thirds of state legislatures call for a convention then Congress is responsible for setting up a place and time for the convention. From that point presumably each state could individually decide to attend and select a delegation to represent them. Then it would be up to the members at the convention to create the rules they want to follow to determine which amendments are proposed.

Convention for ratifying would be different, each state would have their own convention where the appointed members would decide whether or not to ratify a proposed amendment. It would be up to congress to declare that conventions are required to ratify a proposed amendment.

Conventions are generally allowed to create their own rules, and the end result would be something similar to a session in congress or any other legislature. Conventions can be extremely open ended, the constitutional convention was supposed to be a convention to amend the articles of confederation, however they ended up proposing an entirely new government.

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    And that last sentence is why no one's in a hurry to call another constitutional convention...
    – Bobson
    Apr 21, 2016 at 18:20
  • @Bobson And by "no one's in a hurry to do it", you mean "six states out of the needed 34 have already passed a resolution for it, and 34 more are looking seriously at it this year," right? (Not saying it's a good idea, just that it is something that is getting taken very seriously by a lot of people who absolutely are very motivated to do it.) Apr 21, 2016 at 19:45
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    @MasonWheeler - I'm not saying it won't happen, and I'll admit I put it rather facetiously. It's come close to happening several times. A balanced budget convention proposal had passed in 32 of 34 states needed by 1983, for example. But my point was that it's a significant step to take in the first place, and it usually results in Congress passing its own version of an amendment or law before the needed total is actually reached. I don't think most people want a total rewrite, and any single-issue call can be short-circuted by Congress.
    – Bobson
    Apr 21, 2016 at 22:55
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Article V Convention for Proposing Amendments

There have not been any conventions held for proposing amendments to the Constitution. However, there have been several attempts to enact the procedures necessary to hold a convention to propose amendments.

H.R.351 - Federal Constitution Convention Amendment Act and its predecessors of the same name going back to 1973, would elect one delegate for each member of Congress (one from each Congressional district and two state-wide). A "two-thirds vote of the total number of delegates" would be required to propose amendments.

S.214 - Constitutional Convention Implementation Act of 1991 and its predecessors of the same name (excepting the year) going back to 1979, would also stipulate the District of Columbia be represented and "that the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall convene the convention." Passage of an amendment proposal would be according to rules adopted by three-fifths of the delegates.

H.Con.Res.24 calls upon Congress to call a convention to propose a specific amendment. That side-steps the need for two-thirds of the states to call for a convention.


Article V Convention for Ratifying Amendments

The Twenty-First Amendment was the only amendment ratified by conventions in the states. With no prior experience, nor any procedure set forth by Congress, each state went ahead independently.

There is an article, The Ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment (14 pages) covering the ratification processes used by the different states, in detail.

Generally, this involves the election of delegates under procedures set by the legislature, a meeting at the state capital, and a vote – yes or no – on ratification.


See also, How does Massachusetts ratify proposed amendments to the constitution of the United States?

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