Amending the Constitution, a quick review

August 18th was the 90th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment – which gave women the right to vote. Given the recent sound and fury over amending the 14th amendment to remove the provision governing “birthright citizenship,” it might be instructive to review what actually goes into amending the Constitution.

 Article V states:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided 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; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

 Let’s paraphrase.

 Step one: two-thirds of the House (292 members) and the Senate (67 members) must propose and approve an amendment

 OR

 two-thirds of all state legislatures (34) must call a Constitutional Convention to propose amendments.

 Step two: three-quarters of state legislatures, or three-quarters of state constitutional conventions (38 states) must ratify the amendment.

The most recently passed amendment (the 27th, which prevents laws affecting Congressional salaries from taking effect until the beginning of the next session of Congress) was ratified a full 202 years after it was first proposed by James Madison. That’s an exceptionally long period – of course, a number of states were added in the intervening years, necessitating more states to sign on – but it serves to underline that amendments to the nation’s governing document are not to be undertaken lightly.

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