By Charles Apple
In the 231 years and two months that the U.S. Constitution has been operating, congress and the various states have updated that constitution 27 times. Here’s a closer look at our constitutional amendments – plus a few that didn’t pass.
All amendments passed by Congress on Sept. 25, 1789 and ratified by states on Dec. 15, 1791.
Guaranteed Congress would pass no laws that would infringe on basic freedoms: Of religion, of speech, of the press, of peaceful assembly and to petition the government.
Guaranteed the right to keep and to bear arms.
Guaranteed no citizens would have to quarter soldiers in their homes during peacetime. This had been a problem with the English during the Revolutionary War.
Guaranteed no unreasonable searches and seizures and set out requirements for search warrants requiring probable cause.
Established rules for indictment by a grand jury, eminent domain, protected the right to due process and prohibited self-incrimination and double jeopardy.
Guaranteed the right to a fair and speedy trial by an impartial jury, the right to confront an accuser and the right to retain counsel and bring in witnesses.
Guaranteed the right to a trial by jury in federal civil cases and restricted courts from overturning a jury’s finding of fact.
Prohibited excessive fines, excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment.
Makes clear that citizens have other “unenumerated” rights that may not be specifically listed in the Constitution.
Makes clear that the federal government has only those powers specifically granted to it by the Constitution. Powers not specifically granted is left to the states or the people.
In addition, there were six Constitutional amendments that were passed by two-thirds of both houses of Congress but were never ratified by three-fourths of the states, as required in Article Five of the Constitution. One is still being argued in courts.
Passed by Congress: Sept. 25, 1789
This amendment, proposed as one of 12 original “Bill of Rights” amendments, would have regulated the size of congressional districts to ensure apportionment of representatives. It never passed, although there was another failed “Bill of Rights” amendment that was finally ratified in 1992 – 202 years and 223 days after Congress sent it to the states.
Passed by Congress: March 4, 1794
Ratified by states: Feb. 7, 1795
What the amendment did: Made states immune from lawsuits from citizens of other states and from foreigners and set up the foundation for state sovereign immunity.
Passed by Congress: Dec. 9, 1803
Ratified by states: June 15, 1804
What the amendment did: Changed how elections worked: Previously, the vice president was the No. 2 vote-getter. After this, presidents and vice presidents were elected together on a “ticket.”
TITLES OF NOBILITY AMENDMENT
Passed by Congress: May 1, 1810
This amendment would require any U.S. citizen who accepts a title of nobility from another country to be stripped of his or her U.S. citizenship.
‘THE CORWIN AMENDMENT’
Passed by Congress: March 2, 1861
This amendment would make state’s “domestic institutions” – especially slavery – immune to abolition or other interference from Congress.
Passed by Congress: Jan. 31, 1865
Ratified by states: Dec. 6, 1865
What the amendment did: Abolished slavery and involuntary servitude.
Passed by Congress: June 13, 1866
Ratified by states: July 9, 1868
What the amendment did: Granted citizenship to former slaves and guaranteed a citizen’s “privileges or immunities,” due process of law and equal protection of laws.
Passed by Congress: Feb. 26, 1869
Ratified by states: Feb. 3, 1870
What the amendment did: Guaranteed to all men the right to vote, regardless of race, color or whether or not one had previously been a slave.
Passed by Congress: July 12, 1909
Ratified by states: Feb. 3, 1913
What the amendment did: Allows Congress to levy an income tax without having to apportion it among the states or basing it on the Census.
Passed by Congress: May 13, 1912
Ratified by states: April 8, 1913
What the amendment did: Ensures U.S. senators are elected by direct popular vote.
Passed by Congress: Dec. 18, 1917
Ratified by states: Jan. 16, 1919
What the amendment did: Prohibited the manufacture or sale of alcohol in the U.S. “Prohibition” would be repealed with the 21st Amendment in 1933.
Passed by Congress: June 4, 1919
Ratified by states: Aug. 18, 1920
What the amendment did: Guaranteed to women the right to vote.
CHILD LABOR AMENDMENT
Passed by Congress: June 2, 1924
This amendment would have permitted the federal government to limit, regulate or prohibit child labor.
Passed by Congress: March 2, 1932
Ratified by states: Jan. 23, 1933
What the amendment did: Changed the date on which national elected officials began their terms of office. Instead of March 4, Presidential inaugurations would take place on Jan. 20.
Passed by Congress: Feb. 20, 1933
Ratified by states: Dec. 5, 1933
What the amendment did: Repealed the 18th amendment that banned the manufacture or sale of alcohol.
Passed by Congress: March 24, 1947
Ratified by states: Feb. 27, 1951
What the amendment did: Established a two-term limit for president. A person who completed someone else’s presidential term of more than two years can be elected only once.
Passed by Congress: June 16, 1960
Ratified by states: March 29, 1961
What the amendment did: Guaranteed the District of Columbia electors in the Electoral College.
Passed by Congress: Sept. 14, 1962
Ratified by states: Jan. 23, 1964
What the amendment did: Guaranteed no one could be denied the right to vote based on non-payment of a poll tax or any other type of tax.
Passed by Congress: July 6, 1965
Ratified by states: Feb. 10, 1967
What the amendment did: Established an order of succession to the presidency, procedures for filling a vice presidential vacancy and responding to a presidential disability.
Passed by Congress: March 23, 1971
Ratified by states: July 1, 1971
What the amendment did: Lowered the voting age to 18 years old.
EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT
Passed by Congress: March 22, 1972
This amendment would have prohibited denial of any rights by federal or state governments on the basis of sex. Congress originally set a deadline of March 22, 1979 to pass this amendment and then extended that to June 30, 1982. It did not pass. After that, three more states passed the ERA, which would have made it law – if the ratification deadline hadn’t expired. This is still being argued in courts.
D.C. VOTING RIGHTS AMENDMENT
Passed by Congress: Aug. 22, 1978
This amendment would have given the District of Columbia full rights as a state, with members of Congress and other rights. Congress set a ratification deadline of Aug. 22, 1985 – which wasn’t met.
Passed by Congress: Sept. 25, 1789
Ratified by states: May 5, 1992
What the amendment did: Said that if Congress votes itself a pay increase, that increase won’t take effect until after the next election. This had been one of the original 12 amendments, back in 1789.
Sources: “The Constitution: The Story of the Creation and Adaptation of the Most Important Document in the History of the United States of America” by Gerry and Janet Souter, “The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government” by Fergus M. Bordewich, “The Bill of Rights: The Fight to Secure America’s Liberties” by Carol Berkin, “The Framing of the Federal Constitution,” by Richard B. Morris, Architect of the Capitol, USConstitution.net, FindLaw.com