Bailey83221 (bailey83221) wrote,

How one student amended the constitution in 1992.

The Bill of Rights: TWELVE Amendments?

There were originally twelve amendments to the constitution, not ten....
How one student amended the Constitution in 1992.

Wow, what a gem of a story. (Below)


I have a constitutional law class for law school this semester. In this class, I painfully realized, once again, that I know absolutely NOTHING about American history. Well, the professor said something that I never knew, about the Bill of Rights:

The House of Representatives adopted seventeen amendments to send to the states. The Senate, however, cut the number back to twelve.

So there were originally twelve amendments to the constitution, not ten.

Intrigued at 4 a.m. in the morning, when my pesky mind bothers me the most, I looked up the 12 amendments on the internet.

This is the link that I found:

The Originally Proposed Bill of Rights

On this page was another link to, with an incredible story:
I often despise American’s naïve optimism, so I don’t want this story to come off like a “you can do anything you can put your mind too” truism. It is just a GREAT story.

The entire article is at the findlaw link above, which gives historical background on the twelve amendments.

Here is the story:

Reviving The Proposed Second Amendment: A Student's Campaign

Nowadays, many both inside and outside Congress are unhappy with the way Senators and Representatives take such good care of their compensation - salaries, health benefits, and countless perks.

In 1982, Gregory D. Watson, a twenty-year-old college sophomore majoring in economics at the University of Texas, Austin, was looking for a topic for a paper in his course on government. While browsing, Watson found the un-ratified 1789 Congressional compensation amendment.

After a bit more digging, Watson also found that six states had ratified it, and five had rejected it. But then he discovered that another state, years later, had ratified it, too.

In 1873, during the second term of the Grant administration, Congress increased its salary from $5,000 a year to $7,500 - retroactively, giving each member a $5,000 windfall. The great "Salary Grab" as it was known, produced public clamor, forcing the Congress to repeal their salary increase.

Also in 1873 - as Watson discovered - the Ohio General Assembly ratified the Congressional compensation amendment, eighty-four years after it had been submitted by Congress. The ratification was, in effect, a protest of the Salary Grab, for the 1789 amendment outlawed this very type of action the Salary Grab represented. The Amendment stated simply that: "No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened."

Watson decided that since the 1789 amendment had no time limit on it, it was still viable, and could be adopted by other states. After all, the issue of Congress' voting itself pay raises remained a problem.

Watson wrote up his analysis, recommending that the 1789 amendment be adopted by the rest of the states. Watson's government professor was unimpressed and gave him only a "C" for his efforts. But he remained intrigued by what he had discovered.

Watson on the Warpath: A One Man Campaign For Ratification

Gregory Watson undertook his own campaign to get the 1789 Congressional compensation amendment to become part of the Constitution. Remarkably, he succeeded. I wanted to learn more, so I tracked him down.

When Watson started, he believed only seven states had ratified what is now the Twenty-Seventh Amendment: Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Delaware, Vermont and Virginia - all of which had ratified between 1789 and 1791 - plus Ohio, which had ratified in 1873. But he needed thirty-eight states total - three-quarters of fifty - to make it the supreme law of the land.

Watson told me he thought his best chance was to start with states where both the House and Senate of the state's legislature were controlled by one party. So he started with Maine. Maine bought his arguments and ratified in 1983. Then in 1984, Colorado did the same.

After State Legislatures magazine reported the new ratifications, another state, Wyoming, reporting that it had ratified the 1789 amendment too - back in 1977. Much like Ohio in 1873, Wyoming had done so to protest a Congressional pay raise.

Watson's one-man bandwagon soon attracted a few big name players, who wanted to join him. Paul Gann, the California tax gadfly who with Howard Jarvis had authored California's Proposition 13 (limiting state property taxes), was one of them. Gann started a movement to get all states to adopt the 1879 compensation amendment.

Ralph Nader also joined the effort, urging that the amendment, be adopted. And much later a few members of Congress would make noise on behalf of the amendment, too. But as I see it, none of these "heavies" (my word, not Watson's) had any real impact. Rather they came and were gone. Yet Watson, like the Energizer bunny, kept at it.

Working on his IBM Selectric typewriter at home and on weekends, Watson, who had become a legislative assistant with the Texas State Legislature, kept papering state legislatures. His goal was to get the proposed amendment ratified by the two-hundredth anniversary of its passage by Congress - September 1989. He didn't make it, but he came close.

The Final Push That Made the Amendment Part of the Constitution

On March 29, 1989, The Washington Post picked up the story. Watson had twenty-seven of the thirty-eight needed states. Several members of Congress had taken notice, and were encouraging their states to adopt the amendment. But, as the Post reported, constitutional scholars were very dubious.

"I think it's clearly dead," Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger told the Post, because "it was proposed without any time deadline." Dellinger explained that while there was no rule in the Constitution about a time limit, "the Supreme Court has held that the adoption of an amendment is to reflect a 'contemporary consensus.' Therefore, an amendment dormant for 200 years is no longer viable."

Dellinger was referring to the Supreme Court's holding in Coleman v. Miller. However, this case sets no time limit. Rather, the decision leaves it to Congress to decide if it reflects a "contemporary consensus." Greg Watson, not an attorney, believed he was gathering a contemporary consensus, so he kept going.

Seven states ratified in 1989, two more in 1990, and in 1991 one more. Watson was on the home stretch. By the spring of 1992 Michigan and New Jersey were racing to become the thirty-eighth state and make it law. Michigan won the race, but New Jersey became the thirty-ninth state, followed by Illinois and California - taking the total number of ratifying states to forty-one. On May 18, 1992 the Archivist of the United States, Don W. Wilson, ruled the Twenty-seventh Amendment ratified.

Congress did not know what had hit them. Speaker Tom Foley thought maybe the House should hold hearings, but then he decided that if the Archivist had certified it, that was good enough for him.

Senate President pro tempore Robert Byrd said it was for the Congress to determine when and whether the Constitution has been amended, and they had not yet done so. Congress, however, knew that if it challenged the Amendment, it would be playing a dangerous political game with a highly sensitive subject - members' compensation.

Accordingly, on May 20, 1992 the Senate voted 99 to 0 to approve the new Twenty-seventh Amendment, and the House voted its approval 414 to 3.

A Remarkable Effort By A Single Citizen

Remarkably, and singlehandedly, Greg Watson had amended the Constitution. Today, he is forty years of age, and a man who works three jobs, and seven days a week. In short, he is not a man of great means. Yet he spent his own money to mail countless papers to legislatures throughout the country, and to pay the long distance phone bill so he could give assistance. Watson says he also did all of his own research, running his campaign at nights and on weekends, using his own time.

Why? Based on my conversation with Watson, he strikes me as a concerned citizen - actually, a kind of super-citizen. He is modest and self-effacing - not someone seeking his fifteen minutes of fame. Rather, he is a person who sincerely believed this amendment, if ratified, would improve the Constitution in just the manner the First Congress had sought.

"The American people want a Congress that is honest, that has integrity. This Amendment is one vehicle by which some degree of decorum can be restored," Watson was quoted as saying in May 1992.

What had become of the government professor who gave him a "C" on his paper in 1982? I asked. "Oh, she's not teaching any more," Watson told me. "She's selling citrus fruit" down near the Mexican border.

Had she ever said anything about the lousy grade she gave him? He laughed, and said that a reporter had tracked her down, and told her Watson had gotten the Constitution amended. She was quite embarrassed, and called to apologize for giving him only a "C."

How Long Can Congress Ignore The Twenty-Seventh Amendment?

After my conversation with Watson, I thought: There's only one problem with Gregory Watson's efforts - so far they have been for naught. Congress has totally ignored the Twenty-seventh Amendment, proceeding as if it did not exist. In addition, there has been a lively scholarly debate as to whether the Twenty-seventh Amendment is, in fact, the supreme law of the land.

Since 1997, Congress has taken four COLAs - and remained silent. Congress takes the position that they these pay raises are based on a law that existed before the Twenty-seventh Amendment.

Thus, they claim they have not passed a law in violation of the Amendment's prohibition; rather, they are just following a pre-existing law. The problem with this argument, though, is that the Amendment effectively repeals contrary prior Congressional enactments - or at least renders them unable to be enforced now, after it has been passed.

So far no one has been able to get standing in a federal court to force the Congress to comply with the Constitution, or to test the validity of this amendment.* For that reason, I'm sending this column to the best plaintiff's constitutional lawyer I know -- Alan Morrison of Public Citizen in Washington, DC.

If anyone can find a way to resolve these not unimportant questions, I'm confident it is Public Citizen. And I have no doubt that Gregory Watson is himself a public citizen - one with the country's best interests in mind, and one who would like to see his efforts enforced, as well as recognized as valid constitutional law.

--End article--

* "Since [the Twenty-seventh Amendment's]1992 has not hindered Congress from imposing nearly annual pay raises, characterized as " cost of living adjustments" (COLAs) rather than as pay raises in the traditional sense of the term."

"The Federal courts have ruled in cases brought under the amendment that a COLA is not the same thing as a pay raise. Hence, members of Congress have been able to receive increases in compensation without triggering the restrictions imposed by the amendment."


Does this mean ammendments such as the woman equal rights amendment (which was opposed many churches, including the Mormons) can be ratified by the remaining states and put into law, for example, in the year 2210, when it was proposed in the 1970's?

Can citizens do the same thing with other amendments?

(Well maybe not....)

"The Equal Rights Amendment passed the U.S. Senate and then the House of Representatives, and on March 22, 1972, the proposed 27th Amendment to the Constitution was sent to the states for ratification. But as it had done for every amendment since Prohibition (with the exception of the 19th Amendment [equal voting rights]), Congress placed a seven-year deadline on the ratification process."
"An alternative strategy for ERA ratification has arisen from the "Madison Amendment," concerning changes in Congressional pay, which was passed by Congress in 1789 and finally ratified in 1992 as the 27th Amendment to the Constitution. The acceptance of an amendment after a 203-year ratification period has led some ERA supporters to propose that Congress has the power to maintain the legal viability of the ERA’s existing 35 state ratifications. "
"The Congressional Research Service analyzed this legal argument in 19964 and concluded that acceptance of the Madison Amendment does have implications for the premise that ratification of the ERA by three more states could allow Congress to declare ratification accomplished."


Over 10,000 Constitutional amendments have been proposed

Over 10,000 Constitutional amendments have been proposed in Congress since 1789; in a typical Congressional year in the last several decades, between 100 and 200 are proposed. Most of these proposals never get out of Congressional committee, much less get passed by the Congress. Backers of some amendments have attempted the alternative method mentioned in Article Five, but no proposal of this sort has ever gotten far enough to be considered by all the state legislatures.

This page lists several interesting failed amendments.

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