This is a guest post from State Senator Curtis Olafson (North Dakota). For more on the NDRA, please see my recent blog post which includes links to a variety of sources for further reading.
For the last year, it has been my privilege to serve as the National Spokesman for the National Debt Relief Amendment (NDRA). The NDRA is a state-initiated, non-partisan effort invoking the rights of state legislatures to propose and ratify amendments to the United States Constitution using the process our Founding Fathers wisely provided in Article V of the Constitution. This experience has led me to conclude that we who serve as state legislators should fully understand the powerful tool we have at our disposal in Article V. If we are to restore and preserve our great Republic, we must be willing to use it.
The NDRA is a very simple 18-word amendment that is very easy to understand. As I travel the country and visit with citizens and state legislators, I have found that our challenge lies not with convincing people to like the amendment. The challenge is to overcome the fact that a majority of state legislators are unfamiliar with the amendment process. That unfamiliarity prompts concerns that are founded in fear of the unknown, and not in fact. Once people understand the state-initiated amendment process, their concerns are resolved and their fears are allayed.
Under Article V, there are two methods by which an amendment can be proposed for state ratification: either Congress can propose an amendment by a 2/3rds vote of both chambers, or 2/3rds of the state legislatures (currently 34) can join together in making “application” to Congress to issue a call for a time and a place for a convention of the states. Once Congress has specified a time and a place for the convention, Congress plays no further role in the process until such time as the convention agrees on an amendment or amendments. If the convention comes to an agreement (and they have no obligation to do so), Congress must specify that ratification be decided either directly by the state legislatures or by popular conventions within each state as regulated by state law. (All of the amendments added to date except one have been ratified by the state legislatures). Whether amendments are proposed by Congress or by an amendments convention, 3/4ths of the states must ratify the proposed amendment(s) before it can become part of our Constitution.
Other than the limited powers given to Congress to issue a call for a place and a date for a convention of the states and to choose one of two ratification methods, the states control the process and decide the outcome. The Supreme Court, the president, and state governors play no role in the application process or in convention deliberations. Thus, the only authority in our Republic that has the power to both propose and ratify amendments is the several states. The Founding Fathers did not give that power to Congress, the Supreme Court, or to governors. They intended that the amendments conventions process would provide a check and balance whenever federal power was misused.
I believe that our Founding Fathers intended that we, as state legislators, would not only understand that we have the right to use Article V, but moreover, we have a duty to do so when we see serious challenges facing our nation that are not being solved by our federal government.