Historical Use

Over 11,000 measures to amend the Constitution have been proposed in Congress since 1789.  Thirty-three have been approved by Congress and sent to the states for ratification.  Twenty-seven have been ratified and are now part of the Constitution. 

All 33 amendments submitted to the states for ratification originated in the Congress. The second method, the convention option, a political tool which Alexander Hamilton (writing in The Federalist No. 85) argued would enable state legislatures to “erect barriers against the encroachments of the national authority”, has yet to be invoked. 

Three times in the 20th century, concerted efforts were undertaken by proponents of particular amendments to secure the number of applications necessary to summon an Article V Convention. These included conventions to consider amendments to (1) provide for popular election of U.S. Senators; (2) permit the states to include factors other than equality of population in drawing state legislative district boundaries; and (3) to propose an amendment requiring the U.S. budget to be balanced under most circumstances. The campaign for a popularly elected Senate is frequently credited with “prodding” the Senate to join the House of Representatives in proposing what became the Seventeenth Amendment to the states in 1912, while the latter two campaigns came very close to meeting the two-thirds threshold in the 1960s and 1980s, respectively.

The first ten amendments, aka the Bill of Rights, were adopted in December or 1791.  Seventeen additional amendments have been introduced and adopted in the past 229 years.  That’s averages out to one every 13.5 years.  The last amendment to be introduced and adopted was completed in July of 1971.  It has been 49 years since an amendment has been introduced and adopted. 

Some recent proposed amendments of note include:

The School Prayer Amendment   It would protect the rights of students to voluntarily pray in school.   On June 4, 1998, the full House voted on the amendment, 224–203 in favor. The vote was 61 short of the required two-thirds majority.

The Flag Desecration Amendment was passed by the House of Representatives, but never by the Senate, coming closest during voting on June 27, 2006, with 66 in support and 34 opposed (one vote short).

The Electoral College abolition amendment passed the full House with bipartisan support on September 18, 1969, by a vote of 339 to 70.  It was filibustered and failed to get a 2/3majority vote to end the filibuster.  The vote was 54 to 36; 13 votes short. 

The Human Life Amendment would have overturned Roe vs Wade.  It was rejected by 18 votes in the Senate on June 28, 1983.

A balanced budget amendment was passed by the Senate in 1982.  It was passed by the House in 1995.  But it was never passed by both houses of Congress at the same time. 

The Federal Marriage Amendment   would prohibit same sex marriage.  In 2006, a House motion failed 236–187, falling short of the 290 votes required for passage in that body.

Attempts to overturn the 2010 Citizens United decision have been made in each Congress since then including a 2011 attempt led by Bernie Sanders. 

Applications to an Article V convention to amend the Constitution have also been made in recent years.  Every state except Hawaii has applied for an Article V Convention at one time or another. 15 of the 27 amendments began with applications to an Article V convention.

Recent applications include:

Balanced Budget Amendment   By 1983, the number of state applications had reached 32, only two states short of the 34 needed to force such an Article V convention. 

Campaign finance reform   applications would overturn Citizens United.  Five states have submitted applications as of 2019.

Restricting power of the federal government   is the objective of the Convention of States project.  The project attempts to impose fiscal restraint on government and impose term limits on members of Congress.  16 states have submitted applications as of 2019.

Term limits restrictions   for Congress is the objective of USTL.  Five states have submitted applications as of 2019.

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