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How To Amend the U.S. Constitution

Breakdown of Article V

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WHAT IT IS

  • An amendment is a process to alter or change a law or document (such as a constitution) by specific government procedures. [Merriam-Webster]

  • There are 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution (1789). [Khan Academy]

  • The Bill of Rights (1891) added the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. [National Archives]

  • Seventeen amendments have been added since the Bill of Rights, with the most recent ratified in 1992. [Business Insider]

Article V of the U.S. Constitution

WHY IT MATTERS

 

SOCIAL: Ratified in 1789, the U.S. Constitution is the oldest constitution in the world. [Khan Academy

 

CIVICS: The Founding Fathers envisioned the U.S. Constitution to change with the growing needs of citizens throughout history, hence amendments (changes). At the same time, they wanted the process to be difficult. [The New York Times]

FEDERALLY-LED

There are two ways Congress can propose and approve an amendment. 

 

Path 1

Proposal: Both the Senate and the House of Representatives propose an amendment. It must win a 2/3 majority vote in both chambers to move to ratification. [National Archives]

 

Ratification: 3/4ths of the state legislatures must approve the amendment.[National Archives]

 

26 amendments have been ratified through this pathway. [Khan Academy]

 

 

Path 2

Proposal: Both chambers of Congress (Senate and House) propose an amendment. It must win a 2/3 majority vote in both chambers to move to ratification. [National Archives]

 

Ratification: 3/4ths of states approve the amendment through ratifying conventions. [National Archives]

 

One amendment (21st Amendment) has been ratified through this pathway. [The Washington Post]

 

 

Fun fact

Although originating by the federal government, the president does not have any power or say over the amendment process. [National Archives]

 

Upon ratification, he or she may conduct a ceremony where he or she may sign certification "as a witness." This is not required by law. [National Archives]

STATE-LED

There are two ways for states to propose and approve an amendment.

 

Path 3

Proposal: 2/3rds of state legislatures call on Congress to hold a constitutional convention. [National Archives]

 

Ratification: 3/4ths of the state legislatures must approve the amendment.  [National Archives]

 

 

Path 4

Proposal: 2/3rds of state legislatures call on Congress to hold a constitutional convention[National Archives] 

 

Ratification: 3/4ths of the states must approve of the amendment through ratifying conventions. [National Archives]

 

 

Fun facts

Both state-led pathways have not been used to ratify an amendment. [Khan Academy]

 

State legislatures cannot change the language of the amendment. [National Conference of State Legislatures]

WHERE WE ARE NOW

  • Jan. 15, 2020: The Virginia legislature ratified the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Virginia is the 38th, and necessary last state, to ratify the amendment. [NPR]
  • The ERA should become the 28th amendment to the Constitution. Its fate is uncertain, as ratification "expired" in 1982. [NPR]
  • The ERA was introduced in 1923. It passed Congress in 1972 but stalled in the states. [Smithsonian]
  • The ERA mandates equal rights for all American citizens, regardless of sex. [The New York Times]
  • Check here to see if your state has ratified the ERA.

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

  • How else can the federal government change the Constitution?
  • Why is it important to learn the fraction of states required to ratify and not the actual number?
  • If you could pass an amendment to the Constitution, what would it be? What pressing issues do you think the United States should address?
  • Why do you think the state-led amendment process has not been successful yet? 
  • You can browse current amendments, bills, and other proposals to Congress on the official website here

  • Some believe our Constitution is outdated, while others believe the government has made too many changes to it. What is your opinion?

Key Vocabulary