How to Count to 34: Paulsen on the Article V Convention

In the debate over the “runaway convention,” Professor Michael Stokes Paulsen occupies an unusual, and perhaps unique, position. In a seminal 1993 article, Paulsen argued that an Article V convention could not be limited, but that this wasn’t something that people should be worried about. He observed: “The power of the convention delegates to limit their own agenda at the convention (a power over which the applying states might well exercise considerable control by selecting delegates committed to enforcing a limitation on the agenda), combined with the power of the states to decline to ratify any unwanted amendment the convention proposes, should be regarded as a complete answer to fears that the convention wil generate popularly unacceptable results.” M. Paulsen, A General Theory of Article V: The Constitutional Lessons of the Twenty-Seventh Amendment, 103 Yale L.J. 677, 760 (1993).

Recently Paulsen has rejoined the Article V debate with an article entitled “How to Count to Thirty-Four: The Constitutional Case for a Constitutional Convention,” published in the Summer 2011 issue of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. In this article Paulsen revises and extends his previous remarks regarding the Article V convention. Although much of the article reiterates points he has made before, it is well worth reading (and quite a bit shorter than the 1993 article).

Paulsen argues that the Article V convention was not intended to be a limited one, at least in the sense of a formal limitation to its overall authority. He says that “[r]epresentatives or delegates to such a convention might well operate to some extent pursuant to the ‘instructions’ of the people thus represented, but a convention was not a pass-through or a cipher, but rather an agency- a deliberative political body.”

In this sentence Paulsen makes two assertions about the nature of an Article V convention. The first relates to the role of instructions in an Article V convention. The second relates to the nature of a “convention” as a deliberative body. I will address the second point in this post.

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