Disadvantages of a Federal Constitutional Convention

Article V says that on application of two-thirds of the states Congress “shall” call the convention for proposing amendments. The imperative color of this word cannot be disregarded. It leaves no discretion in Congress as to the convening of an article V assembly, although it may be consistent with some control by Congress over the modalities. A deliberate refusal on the part of Congress to call a convention, once the requisite number of state applications were in hand, may be expected, by enlarged analogy to what has been done in the recent civil rights cases and what is being proposed in the electoral apportionment cases, to bring into play the powers of the Supreme Court to direct the setting up of the national convention. Such a crisis is one to be avoided.

The novelty and drama of this conjuncture have suggested to some that a national constitutional convention might be a good thing. It might, some have intimated, serve as a useful school in the democratic process, educate the voters on a continental scale, and give the people new opportunity to revise their organic law. Nothing in my view could be more wrong. Nothing could show more misapprehension of the nature of political organisms or the foundation of the vast structure which constitutes the American system today. A general and unlimited federal constitutional convention would at least be a futility and might be a disaster.