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A look at the amendments of the U.S. Constitution

Senators and Representatives first met in Congress, under the U.S. Constitution, on March 4, 1789, in the Federal Building in New York City. Six months later, on Sept. 25, James Madison, a Virginia Representative then, submitted to the House 12 amendments to the new Constitution.

His first—called the Congressional Apportionment Amendment—specified that each member of the House shall represent no more than 30,000 people. It fell one state short of adoption, and no state since has ratified it. It appears dead.

Madison’s second—called the Congressional Pay Amendment—stated that “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take affect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

In other words, those who vote themselves a raise must wait until after a subsequent election before anyone in Congress receives a nickel of extra pay.

It is hard to believe, but this Pay Amendment languished for 202 years, 7 months, and 10 days before a sufficient number of states ratified it. How did it revive?

In 1982, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Texas, in Austin, named Greg Watson, first heard about Madison’s second amendment in a government class. He wrote a term paper for the class and suggested that certain states should ratify it now.

Watson initiated a campaign, and ten years later enough states did ratify it, that it then became a part of the U. S. Constitution on May 5, 1992, and is now known as the 27th Amendment, the last of the amendments to the U. S. Constitution.

On Dec. 15, 1791, a sufficient number of states ratified Madison’s remaining ten proposed amendments—called the Bill of Rights—that they became a part of the Constitution. They guarantee certain freedoms: religion, speech, press, assembly, petition the government, keep and bear arms, etc.

On Nov. 7, the New York Times posed a question, “What amendments do we need today?”

After all, 30 years have passed since the states ratified the 27th Amendment, and fifty years, since 1971, have passed since 18-year-olds received the right to vote by the 26th Amendment.

Perhaps, Americans do need more Amendments now.

The New York Times staff asked journalists, Constitutional scholars, and professors to respond, and then they printed a number of their more daring, even outrageous, ideas in a supplement to the Times.

A bold headline to the special section shouts, “Snap Out of It, America! Our once restlessly inventive country has settled for sclerotic politics and modest ambitions. It’s time to dream big again. This is a special section featuring bold ideas to revitalize and renew the American experiment.”

A law professor in New York suggested that America needs an amendment to extend a member of the House’s term from two years to four years. “A longer, four-year term would facilitate Congress’s ability to once again address major issues that Americans care most about.”

A political columnist at The Week stated, “We’ve had 50 states long enough.” He proposed breaking up the larger states with massive populations, like California, Texas, Florida, and New York, into several additional states. “We need new states. We should start by carving some out of our largest.”

A law professor from Pepperdine suggested a twenty-eighth amendment that would “expand the number of Supreme Court justices from nine to sixteen, that their service would terminate after fifteen years, and that two-thirds of the justices must vote to declare a law unconstitutional.”

A demographer and journalist insisted that all citizens should vote, even babies. He writes,

“The denial of the franchise to children is an injustice that should be corrected. All citizens should be allowed to vote, regardless of their age. The minimum voting age should be zero, with parents and guardians casting the vote for their small children.”

A law professor at Columbia also suggested a 28th Amendment. “All workers shall have the right to form and join labor unions, to engage in collective bargaining, to picket, strike, and boycott.” She says that without this amendment, “The consequences are dire. Income inequality has soared.”

One writer, classified as a legal resident, wants an amendment that would give her the right to vote.

“Nearly 15 million people living legally in the U.S. cannot vote. Expanding the franchise in this way would give American democracy new life, restore immigrants’ trust in government and send a powerful message of inclusion to the rest of the world.”

Certain of these ideas will challenge, disturb, or even upset those who favor the status quo.

The staff at the New York Times did not ask me, but if they had, I would suggest the Constitution needs an amendment that would insist upon a viable third or even a fourth political party, separate from the Democrats and Republicans, in each of the Congressional and Presidential elections.