May 6, 2008
CONNECTICUT CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTIONS
By: Meghan Reilly, Legislative Fellow
You asked about the history of constitutional conventions in Connecticut and the process involved in undertaking and conducting a convention.
State legislatures have the power to call constitutional conventions even when authority is not specifically granted by the state constitution. In Connecticut, the General Assembly called the first constitutional convention in 1818, but it was not until the 1965 constitutional convention that the process for calling a convention was set in law.
Today, a constitutional convention can be called by a vote of two-thirds of each house of the General Assembly at least 10 years after the last convention. Alternatively, the General Assembly must call a convention when a majority of voters approve a general election ballot question posed at least 20 years after the last convention or ballot question. The General Assembly is responsible for choosing the membership and dates for a convention. Proposed amendments or revisions must be submitted to the electors within two months of the convention's final adjournment.
HISTORY OF CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTIONS
Historically, state legislatures have had the power to call a constitutional convention even if the state constitution does not provide for one, or they may submit to the people the question of calling a convention (16 C.J.S. Constitutional Law § 29).
The first constitutional convention in Connecticut, called by the legislature, was held in 1818. The convention was not open to the public, and the official Journal of the Constitutional Convention of Connecticut, Held at Hartford in 1818 (1873) provides only brief minutes and voting records. Reports from The Connecticut Currant (later The Hartford Courant) and The Connecticut Journal (later The New Haven Register) include details about the debates and the results of the roll call votes. The 1818 convention yielded the Constitution of 1818, which replaced the Fundamental Orders of 1639 and introduced a new mode of governance, including a Declaration of Rights that limited the role of the state in religion (Paula G. Shakelton, Remembering What Cannot Be Forgotten, 52 Emory L.J. 997 (Spring 2003), Wesley Horton, Annotated Debates of the 1818 Constitutional Convention, 65 Conn. B.J. SI-3 (1991)).
In 1902, another constitutional convention met to discuss reapportionment, but the proposal was rejected (http://www.cslib.org/cts4ch.htm).
In 1965, a constitutional convention was convened, focusing on its mandate: reapportionment. A 1964 U.S. Supreme Court case had established the “one person, one vote” principle, and a federal district court orderd a convention in Connecticut to revise the districting plan for the General Assembly (Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533; Butterworth v. Dempsey, 237 F. Supp. 302 (D. Conn.), affirmed, 378 U.S. 564 (1964)). Beyond that, the convention fine-tuned the 1818 Constitution. References to Christianity were eliminated; a broader equal protection clause was added; the Supreme Court of Errors became the Supreme Court; the governor was given revised veto powers; a section on free public education was added; and Article 13, a provision establishing the process for future constitutional conventions, was added.
UNDERTAKING AND CONDUCTING CONVENTIONS
On a roll call vote, with support of two-thirds of the total membership of each house, the General Assembly may call a constitutional convention to amend the state constitution at least 10 years after the date of a prior convention (Conn. Const. Art. 13, § 1).
A convention must be held if approved by voters pursuant to a ballot question that must appear at specified times. Voters are asked, “Shall there be a Constitutional Convention to amend or revise the Constitution of the State?” at the general election in the even-numbered year at least 20 years from the date of the last convention or the last date that question appeared on the ballot, whichever date is most recent. If a majority of voters voting on the question approves the measure, the General Assembly follows the constitutional process for convening the convention (Conn. Const. Art. 13, § 2).
With a favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the total membership of each house, the General Assembly then stipulates the (1) manner of selecting the convention's membership; (2) date of convening, which must be within one year from the date of the roll call vote or general election; and (3) date of its final adjournment (Conn. Const. Art. 13, § 3).
The convention's proposals to amend or revise the constitution must be submitted to all the electors of the state by two months after its final adjournment. If a majority of the voters voting on the question approves the proposal, it becomes part of the constitution, taking effect 30 days after the vote, unless otherwise provided (Conn. Const. Art. 13, § 4).