Updated February 4, 10:15 a.m.
The state House of Representatives voted 59-31 Thursday morning to approve the call for a Constitutional convention. Tennessee is the fifth state to do so.
Since the Bill of Rights, there have been just 17 changes to the U.S. Constitution.
But Tennessee lawmakers could decide as soon as Thursday to demand a major rewrite.
The state House of Representatives is scheduled to
vote on a resolution formally calling for a “convention of the states” to propose new amendments to the Constitution. They’re making use of a clause buried in Article V of the Constitution, after those creating Congress, the presidency and the Supreme Court.
That language gives states the power to call a constitutional convention — just like the one that took place in Philadelphia more than 200 years ago.
“If there was ever a time in the history of our republic that states need to take advantage of having that constitutional authority, it is now,” says Columbia Republican Sheila Butt, one of the lawmakers spearheading the effort.
Butt says a convention could take place as soon as next summer.
Four states, including Florida and Georgia, have already called for a second constitutional convention. Thirty-four could by the end of the year — enough to trigger a convention. Supporters include the
American Legislative Exchange Council,
tea party groups and Florida Sen.
Even backers like Butt admit it sounds extreme. But she says the constitution needs to be amended to curb federal power, require a balanced budget and create term limits, including for Supreme Court justices.
Skeptics worry it’ll open a can of worms. At a recent hearing, state Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, argued conservatives aren’t prepared for the massive changes a rewritten Constitution would create. He says the country has done just fine running amendments through Congress.
“I understand the convention of states. I’ve read it,” he said. “It seems like we’re going back-door on this.”
Foes of the idea include conservatives, who worry it could open the door to changes to the First and Second Amendments. Democrats in the Tennessee legislature also say the convention could leave out representation for minorities.
But supporters of the convention say those fears are overblown. They argue that delegates could be recalled if they stray into fundamental liberties.
And, failing that, they say the Constitution has a built-in failsafe. Any amendments approved at the convention would have to be ratified by 38 states.