The Amendments Series: Amending the Constitution


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I’ve just spent the past thirteen weeks writing about and exploring the significance of the Bill of Rights. I’ve learned much and I hope you have as well.

I figured now would be a good time to take a moment and consider how the U.S. Constitution allows for any new amendments to the Constitution.

So, let’s take a moment to look at what Article V of the Constitution says. It says:

“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.”

Context


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Consider the context of this option to amend the Constitution. The founders were struggling against a vast slew of people who were not sure if they approved of the new Constitution in the first place. Hamilton and Madison, the primary authors and proponents of the Constitution, knew that it was an imperfect document and that once members of Congress served in Congress for a little while, they were likely to discover areas that needed amending.

Further, Madison and Hamilton understood that the states were very concerned that the federal government would have too much power; thus, it needed to be within the state’s ability to call forth a constitutional convention that would allow them to present new amendments to Congress.

Clause Explained

Ok, so what does this clause in the Constitution mean? Let’s take a closer look.

Article V introduces two paths for amending the Constitution: (I’m getting this breakdown from the website here)

  1. Path 1:

    1. Step 1: Two-thirds of both houses of Congress pass a proposed constitutional amendment. This sends the proposed amendment to the states for ratification.

    2. Step 2: Three-fourths of the states (38 states) ratify the proposed amendment, either by their legislatures or special ratifying conventions.

  2. Path 2: 

    1. Step 1: Two-thirds of state legislatures (34 states) ask for Congress to call “a convention for proposing amendments.” 

    2. Step 2: States send delegates to this convention, where they can propose amendments to the Constitution.

    3. Step 3: Three-fourths of the states (38 states) ratify an amendment approved be the “convention for proposing amendments,” either by their legislatures or special ratifying conventions.

So, the process is pretty straight forward. Either Congress can introduce the amendment and the states must then ratify it, or the states can (if enough are involved) require that Congress call a convention where the states can propose an amendment.


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Notice what two branches of government are missing in this process? The executive and judicial.

Yes, the executive has no part in the making of law or in the amending of the Constitution and neither does the judiciary. Only the states and Congress—the two entities tasked with directly repressing the people and making law.

Think About It

Consider. Amending the Constitution is a pretty big deal. It is essentially either broadening or limiting the federal government’s scope of power. Once an amendment is passed, the courts cannot declare that issue unconstitutional because they cannot declare the constitution unconstitutional and the executive can do nothing for or against it.

The founders wanted the process to be deliberate and fraught with debate and discussion. That way, amending the Constitution itself would never happen rapidly and on a whim. That was, after all, how the Constitution was created. It came together slowly and through much debate and disagreement.

The Process

So, the amendment process has to be a difficult process and it has to be done by the states. The founders believed that involving the states was key.

Why?

Because it was the states who created this government and Constitution in the first place and therefore must have the final say in how this federal government governs the lives of the citizenry. The states really are the ultimate failsafe for an over bloated and over powerful federal government.

Madison said: ““[The Constitution] equally enables the general and the State governments to originate the amendment of errors, as they may be pointed out by the experience on one side, or on the other.”


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And Hamilton said: “We may safely rely on the disposition of the State legislatures to erect barriers against the encroachments of the national authority.”

Constitution Convention Today?

Up until this day, there have been 27 amendments passed and not a single amendment was initiated by the states.

I’ve heard chatter about the states calling together a Constitutional Convention today. People argue that proposing changes and amendments to the Constitution could save the country.

While I do believe there is some merit to that, I also think it is rather naive to believe that a few amendments could save the country.

See, this argument is based on the assumption that the government (and the citizenry for that matter) follows the Constitution. The problem we face now is the fact that the government does NOT follow the Constitution. So merely adding more to the Constitution does little to nothing if the government refuses to follow it in the first place.

Second, amending the Constitution also presumes that the citizenry would be knowledgeable enough to hold their government accountable to the new amendments.


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Conclusion

The dilemma, friends, is us. I’ve said it plenty of times before. If the citizenry would wake up and start demanding that the government simply follow the Constitution as it is now, SO MUCH would instantly change.

I believe that we must first restore the Constitution, and respect for the Constitution, as it is before moving towards a new convention. Americans must begin to cherish and honor the Constitution again and by doing so, we will force our governments to do the same.

The U.S. Constitution, and the liberty it establishes and protects, truly was and is a miracle. It allows for amending. But amending only matters if the Constitution matters.

I’ll leave you with this Daniel Webster quote:

Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution and to the Republic for which it stands. Miracles do not cluster and what has happened once in 6,000 years, may not happen again. Hold on to the Constitution, for if the American Constitution should fail, there will be anarchy throughout the world.”

The Liberty Belle

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