The 27th Amendment: 202 years in the making

by Don Allen

The 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is rather straightforward in both its wording and meaning:

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened

Seems simple. Congress can’t give itself a pay raise that begins in the same term as the one they are currently in. Seems fair to me, and the founding fathers thought so as well as it was originally introduced in the same Congressional session with what is now termed the Bill of Rights, or the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution. However, it wasn’t ratified and was mostly forgotten about.

In 1982, after a series of Congressional pay raises, the public was unhappy. In stepped a man by the name of Gregory Watson, a 19-year old college student who believed that, because the amendment did not have a set date wherein it had to be ratified or it would be invalid, it could still be passed. After receiving a “C” grade (equivalent to a low 2:2) on his paper arguing as such, Watson began a campaign to get the Amendment ratified.

After 10 years of research, in which he found out that some states had ratified the Amendment before he began his campaign, and convincing 30 states who hadn’t ratified it to do so, Watson prevailed and the amendment was ratified as the 27th Amendment on May 18th, 1992.

202 years after its proposal.

The ratification itself was controversial. Legally speaking, according to Title 1, section 106b of the United States Code, after a proposed amendment has left Congress and gone to the states for a vote Congress has no further say in what happens to the amendment. Instead the Archivist of the United States certifies that the amendment has passed and is now officially a part of the Constitution. As written in the code:

Whenever official notice is received at the National Archives and Records Administration that any amendment proposed to the Constitution of the United States has been adopted, according to the provisions of the Constitution, the Archivist of the United States shall forthwith cause the amendment to be published, with his certificate, specifying the States by which the same may have been adopted, and that the same has become valid, to all intents and purposes, as a part of the Constitution of the United States.

The Congress in 1992 however wasn’t too happy that this had been enshrined in the Constitution without them being able to at least look it over. But when push came to shove everything was done legally and above board, and they eventually passed official measures recognizing the 27th Amendment as valid. These official measures were entirely meaningless, other than as a public relations stunt, but after two centuries the founding fathers had contributed what will likely be their last change to the Constitution that they had written.

But then again, as this shows, never say never.

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