The Constitution of the US, which came into force in 1789, is the oldest written constitution in use. The framers of the U.S. Constitution included a provision whereby the document may be amended, generally (though not solely) by a two-thirds majority of each house of Congress followed by ratification by legislatures in three-fourths of the states. (Only one amendment, the Twenty-first Amendment, repealing Prohibition of alcohol, was ratified in an alternate way—by ratifying conventions in three-fourths of the states.) Since 1789 the Constitution has been amended 27 times; of those amendments, the first 10 are collectively known as the Bill of Rights and were certified on December 15, 1791.
Article-5 of the American Constitution deals with the process of amendment. It is a very complex and rigid procedure. Following procedure is adopted having two major steps:
Proposal Of Amendment: First step for an amendment is the proposal for the amendment which can be made in two ways:
- Two third majority in both the houses of the Congress can purpose constitutional amendment, or
- A constitutional convention called by the Congress on the request of the two-third majority of the state legislatures can propose an amendment.
Ratification Of The Amendment: Second step for an amendment is ratification of proposal. There are two ways to ratify a proposal:
- A proposal may be ratified by the three-fourth of state legislatures, or
- Proposal of an amendment may be ratified by a three-fourth majority of the constitutional convention.
Common Procedure: Generally, the procedure adopted for the constitutional amendment is that two third majority of the Congress proposes an amendment and three-fourth state legislatures ratify it. The process of the constitutional amendment is that the amendment is proposed by the two-third majority in the Congress but it is very hard to get two-third majority in the Congress. Then its ratification by the 75 of state legislatures is further a very difficult task. If such a majority is obtained and the amendment is made, then the Supreme Court can reject the amendment under the system of judicial review. This is the reason why in more than 200 years only 27 amendments have been made.
Limitations on amendments
Article V also provides that:
- No Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article.
- No State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.
Some facts about amendments
> Approximately 11,770 proposals to amend the Constitution have been introduced in Congress since 1789 (as of January 3, 2019).
> Collectively, members of the House and Senate typically propose around 200 amendments during each two-year term of Congress.
> Historically, most died in the congressional committees to which they were assigned. Since 1999, only about 20 proposed amendments have received a vote by either the full House or Senate.
> The last time a proposal gained the necessary two-thirds support in both the House and the Senate for submission to the states was the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment in 1978. Only 16 states had ratified it when the seven-year time limit expired.
> Beginning in the early 20th century, Congress has usually, but not always, stipulated that an amendment must be ratified by the required number of states within seven years from the date of its submission to the states in order to become part of the Constitution. Congress’s authority to set a ratification deadline was affirmed in 1939 by the United States Supreme Court in Coleman v. Miller (307 U.S. 433)
Brief overview of Constitutional Amendments
1st Amendment (1791): Proposed on September 25 and ratified on December 15, 1791 (Time span of ratification: 2 years, 81 days)
Guarantees the right to the freedoms of speech, press, and religion. Protects the right to petition the government.
2nd Amendment (1791): Proposed on September 25 and ratified on December 15, 1791 (Time span of ratification: 2 years, 81 days)
Guarantees the people’s right to own and bear arms for their defense.
3rd Amendment (1791): Proposed on September 25 and ratified on December 15, 1791 (Time span of ratification: 2 years, 81 days)
Citizens cannot be forced to quarter soldiers during times of peace.
4th Amendment (1791): Proposed on September 25 and ratified on December 15, 1791 (Time span of ratification: 2 years, 81 days)
Citizens cannot be forced to subject themselves to seizure and search without a search warrant and probable cause.
5th Amendment (1791): Proposed on September 25 and ratified on December 15, 1791 (Time span of ratification: 2 years, 81 days)
Prohibits abuse of governmental authority in legal procedures. Establishes rules for indictment by eminent domain and grand jury. Guarantees the due process rights. Protects citizens from self-incrimination and double jeopardy.
6th Amendment (1791): Proposed on September 25 and ratified on December 15, 1791 (Time span of ratification: 2 years, 81 days)
Guarantees fair and speedy jury trial and the rights to know the accusation, the accuser, and to find counsel and witnesses.
7th Amendment (1791): Proposed on September 25 and ratified on December 15, 1791 (Time span of ratification: 2 years, 81 days)
Reserves individuals’ rights to jury trial depending on the civil case, and cases already examined by not be re-opened by another court.
8th Amendment (1791): Proposed on September 25 and ratified on December 15, 1791 (Time span of ratification: 2 years, 81 days)
Forbids exorbitant bails and fines and punishment that is unusual or cruel.
9th Amendment (1791): Proposed on September 25 and ratified on December 15, 1791 (Time span of ratification: 2 years, 81 days)
Reserves the rights of citizens which are not specifically mentioned by the U.S. Constitution.
10th Amendment (1791): Proposed on September 25 and ratified on December 15, 1791 (Time span of ratification: 2 years, 81 days)
Reserves powers that are not given to the U.S. government under the Constitution, nor prohibited to a State of the U.S., to the people and the States.
11th Amendment (1795): Proposed on March 4, 1794 and ratified on February 7, 1795 (Time span of ratification: 340 days)
State sovereign immunity. States are protected from suits by citizens living in another state or foreigners that do not reside within the state borders. Ratified:
12th Amendment (1804): Proposed on December 9, 1803 and on ratified on June 5, 1804. (Time span of ratification: 189 days )
Modifies and clarifies the procedure for electing vice-presidents and presidents.
13th Amendment (1865): Proposed on January 31, 1865 and on ratified December 6, 1865.(Time span of ratification: 309 days)
Except as punishment for criminal offense, forbids forced-slavery and involuntary servitude.
14th Amendment (1868): Proposed on June 13, 1866 and on ratified on July 9, 1868. (Time span of ratification:2 years, 26 days)
Details Equal Protection Clause, Due Process Clause, Citizenship Clause, and clauses dealing with the Confederacy and its officials.
15th Amendment (1870): Proposed on February 26, 1869 and on ratified on February 3, 1870.(Time span of ratification: 342 days)
Reserves citizens the suffrage rights regardless of their race, color, or previous slave status.
16th Amendment (1913): Proposed on July 12, 1909 and on ratified on February 3, 1913.(Time span of ratification:3 years, 206 days)
Reserves the U.S. government the right to tax income.
17th Amendment (1913): Proposed on May 13, 1912 and on ratified April 8, 1913. (Time span of ratification:330 days)
Establishes popular voting as the process under which senators are elected.
18th Amendment (1919): Proposed on December 18, 1917 and on ratified January 16 1919.(Time span of ratification:1 year, 29 days)
Denies the sale and consumption of alcohol.
19th Amendment (1920): Proposed on June 4, 1919 and ratified on August 18, 1920.(Time span of ratification:1 year, 75 days)
Reserves women’s suffrage rights.
20th Amendment (1933): Proposed on March 2, 1932 and ratified on January 23, 1933.(Time span of ratification:327 days)
Also known as the “lame duck amendment,” establishes date of term starts for Congress (January 3) & the President (January 20).
21st Amendment (1933): Proposed on February 20, 1932 and on ratified December 5, 1933 (Time span of ratification:288 days)
Details the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. State laws over alcohol are to remain.
22nd Amendment (1951): Proposed on March 21, 1947 and ratified on February 27, 1951. (Time span of ratification:3 years, 343 days)
Limit the terms that an individual can be elected as president (at most two terms). Individuals who have served over two years of someone else’s term may not be elected more than once.
23rd Amendment (1961): Proposed on June 16, 1960 and ratified on March 19, 1961.(Time span of ratification:286 days)
Reserves the right of citizens residing in the District of Columbia to vote for their own Electors for presidential elections.
24th Amendment (1964): Proposed on September 14, 1962 and ratified on January 23, 1964. (Time span of ratification:1 year, 131 days)
Citizens cannot be denied the suffrage rights for not paying a poll tax or any other taxes.
25th Amendment (1967): Proposed on July 6, 1965 and ratified on February 10, 1967. (Time span of ratification:1 year, 219 days)
Establishes the procedures for a successor of a President.
26th Amendment (1971): Proposed on March 23, 1971 and ratified on July 1, 1971. (Time span of ratification:100 days)
Reserves the right for citizens 18 and older to vote.
27th Amendment (1992): Proposed on September 25, 1789 and ratified on May 5, 1992. (Time span of ratification:202 years, 223 days)
Denies any laws that vary the salaries of Congress members until the beginning of the next terms of office for Representatives.
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