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State ratifying conventions are one of the two methods established by Article V of the United States Constitution for ratifying constitutional amendments. Ratifying conventions have only been used for the ratification of the 21st Amendment. All others have been proposed for ratification by the state legislatures.

Contents

Constitutional text

Article V reads in pertinent part (italics added):

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 thereof, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress....

Use of the convention ratification option

Ratification of proposed amendment has been done by state conventions once: the 1933 ratification process of the 21st Amendment.[1] The 21st is also the only constitutional amendment that repealed another one, namely, the 18th Amendment, which had been ratified 14 years earlier.

A state ratifying convention may not change the proposed amendment, but must accept or reject it.

Purpose

Clearly, the framers of the Constitution wanted a means of sometimes bypassing the state legislatures in the ratification process. To some extent, the convention method of ratification loosely approximates a one-state, one-vote national referendum on a specific proposed constitutional amendment, thus allowing the sentiments of registered voters to be had on highly sensitive issues.

New Mexico law provides that the members of its legislature would themselves make up such a convention, if Congress were to again select that particular method of ratification. It is unclear whether the law violates the U.S. Constitution.

References

  1. ^ Everett S. Brown, Ratification of the Twenty First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: State Convention Records and Laws (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1938).
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Besides the more common constitutional amendment ratification method, Article V establishes the possibility of conventions within the individual states to ratify a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution.

Article V reads in pertinent part (italics added):

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 thereof, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress....

Contents

Use of the convention ratification option

In the history of the United States, this particular method of ratifying an officially proposed amendment has been used only once, that being in the 1933 ratification process of the 21st Amendment. This is also the only case in which one constitutional amendment repealed another constitutional amendment; the 21st Amendment explicitly repealed the 18th Amendment, which had been ratified some 14 years earlier.

Apparent purpose of the alternative convention ratification procedure

Clearly, the framers of the Constitution wanted a means of sometimes bypassing the state legislatures in the ratification process. To some extent, the convention method of ratification loosely approximates a one-state, one-vote national referendum on a specific proposed constitutional amendment, thus allowing the sentiments of registered voters to be had on highly sensitive issues.

However, that did not stop a stipulation in New Mexico state law which provides that the members of that state's legislature would themselves make up such a convention, if Congress were to again select that particular method of ratification.

Election of convention delegates

Delegates in each state are chosen through an election which must take place no later than one year after having been called by its governor. The number of delegates and details of candidate nomination and election vary from state to state. But typically, candidates have previously been chosen by petition (as in Ohio)[1] or by nomination by the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the house (as in Vermont).[2] In the latter case, one half of the eligible persons would announce support for the proposed amendment, while the other half would be opposed. Therefore, the number of candidates must be at least double that of the final number of delegates, taking in to account possible abstainers. Traditional party affiliations are formally abandoned throughout this process, however

the nominating petitions shall contain a statement as to each nominee, to the effect that he favors ratification, or that he opposes ratification, or that he will remain unpledged, and no nominating petition shall contain the name of any nominee whose position as stated therein is inconsistent with that of any other nominee as stated therein.
(Ohio State Code, 1953).[1]

When elected, the convention meets, discusses and casts its votes on the proposed amendment.

The conventions assembled for the consideration of the Constitution's 21st Amendment were unicameral.

Limits and comparisons

A state ratifying convention has no modification or proposal powers. It may only debate upon, and then either approve or reject an already-proposed constitutional amendment as written.

Also, a state ratifying convention is different from a constitutional convention insofar as the latter term is usually understood to describe an assembly whose purpose from the beginning is to write an entirely new constitution for a nation or for an individual political subdivision of a nation.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Chapter 3523". Ohio Revised Code. State of Ohio. http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/3523. Retrieved on 2008-04-30. 
  2. "Constitutional Topic: Ratification Conventions". http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_acon.html. Retrieved on 2008-04-30. 

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