Calls for Constitutional Conventions

March 16, 1979

Report Outline
Budget and Abortion Issues
Constitution's Amending Process
Barriers to Another Convention
Special Focus

Budget and Abortion Issues

Drive to Require Balanced Federal Budget

Article V of the U.S. Constitution sets out the provisions for proposing amendments to the document. Amendments may be proposed either by a two-thirds vote in Congress or by a convention called at the request of two-thirds (34) of the state legislatures. The second method has not been used to amend the Constitution since the document was drawn up in 1787. But 1979 could possibly be the year the clause is invoked for the first time. Twenty-eight state legislatures have made some kind of formal call for a convention to make a balanced federal budget a constitutional imperative, and 14 have adopted resolutions calling for a convention to write an anti-abortion amendment. The budget-balancing drive, with its stronger show of legislative support, has received the most attention in Washington.

Jason Boe, president of the Oregon Senate and president of the National Conference of State Legislatures, said Jan. 15 that there is a “strong possibility” that the required total of 34 legislatures will approve such a measure by this summer. Some observers agree with Boe's prediction, but the momentum from the states appears to be slackening after a rapid thrust in the first two months of this year, when all but two of the 50 state legislatures were in session.

One reason for the slowdown, aside from fewer legislatures being in session, is the largely negative reaction from Congress. Several leading members of both parties say a constitutional amendment would tie Congress's hands, making its job more difficult, and cause the nation economic problems. The son of the House Speaker, Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Thomas P. O'Neill III, heads a newly formed national coalition of amendment foes, which held its first meeting March 9. It is likely that Congress will pass some form of budget-balancing legislation itself or propose a less-rigid constitutional amendment in an attempt to sidetrack the drive for a convention — and perhaps placate the voters back home. Regardless of the way in which any amendment is proposed — by a convention or by Congress — three-fourths (38) of the state legislatures must ratify it before it becomes part of the Constitution.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Constitution and Separation of Powers
Sep. 07, 2012  Re-examining the Constitution
Jan. 29, 1988  Treaty Ratification
Mar. 27, 1987  Bicentennial of the Constitution
Jan. 31, 1986  Constitution Debate Renewed
Mar. 16, 1979  Calls for Constitutional Conventions
Jul. 04, 1976  Appraising the American Revolution
Sep. 12, 1973  Separation of Powers
Jul. 12, 1972  Treaty Ratification
Apr. 19, 1967  Foreign Policy Making and the Congress
Mar. 05, 1947  Contempt of Congress
May 10, 1945  The Tariff Power
Jul. 01, 1943  Executive Agreements
Jun. 01, 1943  Advice and Consent of the Senate
May 24, 1943  Modernization of Congress
Jan. 18, 1943  The Treaty Power
Aug. 24, 1942  Congress and the Conduct of War
May 09, 1940  Congressional Powers of Inquiry
Nov. 09, 1939  Participation by Congress in Control of Foreign Policy
Apr. 21, 1937  Revision of the Constitution
Feb. 24, 1936  Advance Opinions on Constitutional Questions
Oct. 04, 1935  Federal Powers Under the Commerce Clause
Jun. 19, 1935  The President, the Constitution, and the Supreme Court
Sep. 10, 1928  The Senate and the Multilateral Treaty
Dec. 16, 1926  The Senate's Power of Investigation
Oct. 03, 1924  Pending Proposals to Amend the Constitution
Deficit, Federal Debt, and Balanced Budget
State, Local, and Intergovernmental Relations
U.S. Constitution