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How to Amend the Constitution

Joshua graduated from the National Paralegal College with an Associates Degree in Paralegal Studies in 2020.

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Can the Constitution Be Amended?

There are many nations in the world which are governed by a constitution either written or otherwise (I’m looking at you United Kingdom). Today we are going to focus specifically on the United States Constitution. When the document was drafted it was designed to regulate the relationship between the citizens of the United States and the government of the United States. Our founding fathers were aware that a document may need to be changed from time to time in order to accommodate a changing country. However, they did not want this to be an easy process and there are only two ways that a change to the constitution (also known as amending the constitution) can be accomplished. The first is through Congress and the second is through a convention of the states.


How Difficult Is It To Amend the Constitution?

You probably know that the constitution has already been amended. In fact as of this article being published the constitution has been amended 27 times. That’s right, there are currently 27 amendments. Taking an average that is one amendment every nine years or so, which may seem like a lot. Well, not really. You have probably heard of the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is actually a list of amendments, ten of them in fact. So taking that into consideration the constitution has been changed on average every 14.47 years or so but even that number is deceiving as many of the amendments have basically been adopted in groups and the last time the constitution was amended was in 1992 which was actually proposed in 1789. While most amendments have not taken over 200 years to be ratified, the quickest an amendment has gone from being proposed to it’s ratification is 100 days. It is not uncommon for an amendment to take several years to get from the proposal stage to actually being ratified. This is not a quick process and it was not designed to be. The founders did not want amending the constitution to be easy and wanted to make sure there was plenty of debate on the topic and that only those proposals with board support would make the cut

The Amendment Process: Congress

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Article V of the constitution lays out the process under which it can be amended. There are two methods which can be used, for now let’s focus on the Congressional method. When Congress proposes an amendment it is done in the form of a joint resolution. Why a joint resolution instead of a bill? Well, that is because the President has no actual role in the amendment process. Because the President has no actual role his signature is not required for the amendment to pass. For the amendment to pass it must have the support of 2/3rds of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. If this hurdle is not met then the proposed amendment does not pass and does not get added to the constitution. If however, the amendment garners the necessary support from within both houses of Congress it will then go to the states for ratification. Next the proposed amendment is transmitted to the governors of the various states by the Office of the Federal Register by sending what is known as a letter of notification as well as informational material. At this point either the proposed amendment will be submitted to the state legislatures by their governors or the state may call a convention which would depend on the specifications made by Congress. If the proposed amendment garners the support of 3/4ths of the states it will then become part of the constitution. If the proposed amendment does not garner support from 3/4ths of the states it will not become part of the constitution.


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The Amendment Process: Convention of the States

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The second method to amending the constitution is through a process called a convention of the states. This is provided as another check and balance in our governmental system. As we have seen throughout American history the federal government is not keen on limiting its own power and the founders were concerned that a central government could amass so much power that it is able to force it’s will on the people in ways that would violate their rights. As another check on this power the constitution allows for the states to come together to propose and pass amendments without any input from the federal government at all. For a convention of the states to take place two thirds of the state legislatures must call for a convention to take place. As of the time of this article being published there are currently 19 states calling for a convention to take place and another six states where the application has passed one chamber. There are also a number of states in which the application is considered to be active but has not yet passed any legislative chamber. Once a convention is called the states will send delegates to debate on proposed amendments to the constitution. Unless the process changes each state will receive one vote in this process meaning that once the majority of the delegates from a given state make a decision they will cast that states single vote. For any of the proposed amendments to take effect the 3/4ths of the state legislatures would then have to sign on to the amendments. If that happens the constitution will be amended.

And there we have it, the only two ways that the constitution of the United States can be amended.


© 2022 Joshua Hurtado

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