After years of failed attempts, Utah lawmakers voted Tuesday to formally call for a convention of states to propose, debate and potentially ratify amendments to the United States Constitution.
Roughly a dozen other states, most of which are led by conservatives, have adopted similar resolutions. But no convention of states will occur unless and until three fourths of the nation — or 38 states — join the cause, an unprecedented and seemingly insurmountable task.
“If certainty were the standard for action, then many great and wonderful things would not have happened,” said Grantsville Republican Rep. Merrill Nelson, the resolution’s House sponsor. “We never would have had a Revolutionary War. We never would have put a man on the moon. We never would have had the first human heart transplant because of fear of failure.”
The 42-32 vote followed roughly 30 minutes of discussion in which no opponents spoke against the resolution, and which featured multiple statements about “fear” and the need to push back against an outsize, dysfunctional federal government.
“I don’t fear changing the Constitution,” said Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City. “I fear a Constitution that never changes.”
Only Republicans voted in favor of the resolution, SJR9, while 16 GOP Representatives joined the chamber’s Democrats in opposition. SJR9 was approved by the Senate last week in a 16-12 vote, and is not subject to gubernatorial consideration.
While a convention of states has never convened — beyond the original constitutional convention — the process for one is outlined in Article V of the Constitution. Beyond the three-fourths of states necessary to issue the call, any potential amendment would require ratification by either four-fifths of state legislatures, or voters in four-fifths of the states.
Rep. Cheryl Acton, D-West Jordan, remarked that all 27 amendments to the Constitution were initiated by Congress.
“We’ve never even tried the other method,” she said, adding that states have never been as desperate to “contain” the federal government as they are now.
And Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, stated his support for the resolution while remarking on his belief of divine origins for both the U.S. Constitution and its procedures for alteration.
“If you believe that this was an inspired Constitution and an inspired document,” he said, “there’s a reason that Article V was in there.”
Nelson said both major parties have contributed to huge national deficits and the need for structural correction. The states created the federal government, he said, and now need to “rise up and repair it.”
“I would rather try and fail in this Article V effort,” Nelson said, “than to do nothing and watch my country fail.”