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Constitutional Amendment - Brief History Of Constitutional Amendments, Further Readings

congress proposed ratified method

The means by which an alteration to the U.S. Constitution, whether a modification, deletion, or addition, is accomplished.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution establishes the means for amending that document according to a two-step procedure: proposal of amendments, followed by ratification. Amendments may be proposed in two ways: by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress or by a special convention summoned by Congress on the petition of two-thirds (34) of the state legislatures.

In the long history of the U.S. Constitution, over 5,000 amendments have been introduced in Congress. Only 33 of these have been formally proposed by Congress, and none has ever been proposed by a special convention.

No matter which method is used for the proposal of a constitutional amendment, Congress retains the power to decide what method will be used for ratification: approval of three-fourths (38) of the state legislatures, or approval of three-fourths (38) of special state conventions. Congress may also place other restrictions, such as a limited time frame, on ratification.

Of the 33 amendments proposed by Congress, 27 were ratified. Of the amendments ratified, only one—the TWENTY-FIRST AMENDMENT, which repealed a PROHIBITION on alcohol—was ratified by the state convention method. The rest have been ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.

The process for amending the Constitution is deliberately difficult. Even when an amendment is proposed by Congress, it has taken, on average, two-and-a-half years for it to be ratified. That difficulty creates stability, with its accompanying advantages and disadvantages. The advantages lie in the fact that the Constitution's provisions are not subject to change according to the whims of a particular moment. The disadvantages inhere in the reality that the Constitution must also adapt and be relevant to a changing society. Given the difficulty of amendment, much of the burden of adapting the Constitution to a changing world has fallen on the shoulders of the Supreme Court and its powers of JUDICIAL REVIEW, which have been described as an informal method of changing the Constitution. However, constitutional amendments may in turn modify or overturn judicial opinion, as was the case with the Eleventh, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Sixteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-fourth, and Twenty-sixth Amendments.

Commentators have also pointed out that the amendment process is not a very democratic one. As the constitutional scholar EDWARD S. CORWIN wrote: "A proposed amendment can be added to the Constitution by thirty-eight states containing considerably less than half of the population of the country, or can be defeated by thirteen states containing less than one-twentieth of the population of the country."

Constitutional Law - The Constitution, The Bill Of Rights, Due Process Clauses, Equal Protection Clause, Supremacy Clause [next] [back] Constitutional

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