A growing contingent of legislators in the state House and Senate is seeking to pass an application for North Carolina to join at least 33 other states to call for a Constitutional Convention, not controlled by Congress in Washington D.C., but by delegates, or “commissioners,” of the states, with a goal of reining in the federal government in three key areas.
The legislation, being run concurrently in the House and Senate, would authorize a call for a convention of the states to adopt amendments to the U.S. Constitution to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the government, and impose term limits on Congress.
The call, if passed this session, would be valid until Dec. 31, 2026.
The push for the convention comes from the group Convention of States, which is focused on utilizing the second method for amending the U.S. Constitution laid out in Article Five, which says that “the Congress … 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.”
Until now the 10 amendments in the Bill of Rights and the additional 17 passed since then have all originated with Congress and been ratified by the states, whereas in this case the states could write and approve the amendments, which would then be either ratified or not in the states. (The president has no formal role in any of these ways of amending the Constitution.)
State Rep. Dennis Riddell (R-Alamance) has joined the group of legislators sponsoring the bill, making North Carolina the 11th state to call for a convention after Arizona and North Dakota recently became ninth and tenth.
“I first heard about the Convention of States movement through a colleague of mine, Bert Jones, who is actually the lead on this,” Riddell said. “The more I looked into it, the more it appealed to my history teacher background and my citizenship responsibilities. I though this is what we need to do to rein in an out-of-control federal government.”
Riddell said the need for a convention of the states is long overdue, and that even above that there needs to be a national civics lesson about the way our government is supposed to work, with the majority of the power resting with the states. He said the convention is a step toward that, and he even went as far as to call it the duty of state legislatures to implement a convention.
“It gives us an opportunity to have what I think is a long-overdue, necessary civics discussion in our county,” he said. “We have a federal government that has broken outside of the boundaries of the Constitution, and the founders wisely put in this option as a means for the states to corral an obtuse, out-of-control federal government, and, if we don’t make use of this as state legislators, we are guilty of malpractice. They put this in our hands, if the federal government ever got into a place where the federal government was spending itself stupid, [with a] $20 trillion national debt, and trampling on the prerogatives of the state.
“So they in their wisdom put in an alternative, a second way, to amend the Constitution of the United States. Thirty-four is a high bar, but I think you can get 34 states to agree that a perennially unbalanced budget is a problem, that we need to intervene, as you do with a drug addict. It’s a means for the state to rein in a federal government that is engaging in self-destructive behavior that endangers all 50 of the United States.”
Riddell said fears that a convention could “run away” and drastically change the face of the nation are no more true for a convention of states than for amendments launched by Congress.
“There’s a built-in safeguard that the founders put in. Thirty-four states to call a convention is a high bar, 38 to approve is even higher, that’s why we’ve only had, not counting the first 10, 17 amendment since the founding of the country added to the constitution, That’s a pretty high bar, trying to get 38 states unified around an idea that will be good for the country’s longevity,” he said. “This is constitutional; it is in the original document.”
Riddell said that even if there are close to enough states to call the convention, that would likely spur action from Congress to get in front of the issues, but he hopes it wouldn’t stop there.
“I think we need a convention of states, just to show we can do it, and where the power truly lies. It’s in the hands of the people. It’s not in D.C., it’s not here in Raleigh, it’s with the people,” he said.