The US Constitution stands as one of the few documents in history to survive the test of centuries while maintaining the integrity of its writers intentions. As if by design, the foundations memorialized it this contract between government and the people, have stood relatively unchanged since September 25, 1789 when the first 10 changes, called the Bill of Rights, where codified into the document as amendments. The US Constitution also holds the distinction as one of the few governing documents to address the manner in which it should be changed. Article 5 of the United States Constitution describes this process in detail and stands as the only legal means by which the Constitution can be altered by the people.
Article 5 states: “The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.” (US Constitution, September 17, 1787)
Article 5 defines the first step in the amendment process as proposal. Proposing a constitutional amendment can be done both by the federal government and by the state governments. According to Article 5, “whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments…” thus, the Constitution allowed for a check and balance of federal power by state government. States have regularly used this power to pressure Congress to call for a resolution of the desired amendments, most notably the 17 amendment which made senators popularly elected officials, instead of state legislature appointed.
The second step of the amendment process is ratification. After a resolution has been officially recognized or proposed, a constitutional amendment must then be ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states, or by conventions in, at least three-fourths of the states. Although the United States Constitution has only been amended 27 times, of those 27, Congress has only specified the state conventions ratification method for one, that being the 21st Amendment in 1933. While technically effective as an amendment after three-fourths of the states have ratified it, some states have in past instances, ratified an amendment that has already become law. In several cases, the ratification process has taken over a century to complete.
A question that has caused some notable debate in recent years has been the question of whether or not a state, after it has ratified an amendment, can in fact rescind its position. While the amendment process is simple and straight forward, this subtle nuance has caused many to question the validity of amendments that states have claimed they have rescinded after initially ratifying. The issue of rescission previously became important during the 1970’s when 4 state legislatures adopted resolutions establishing their decision to repeal their previous ratifications of the Equal Rights Amendment which was proposed March 22, 1972 yet expired 1979 without being officially ratified. While the Constitution does not provide an official deadline for the ratification process, the Supreme Court has stated in the 1921 case of Dillon v. Gloss, that Congress could impose a time limit on the process if it so desired.
While history has seen empires rise and fall, laws come and go, and leaders emerge and vanish; it has never witnessed a group as exceptional as the American founding fathers. Their words have torn through generations. Their logic and discourse stand as evidence to the power of liberty against the onslaught of slavery and tyranny. Yet these men, so well-versed in logic and discovery, provided a simple mechanism for the continued success of their creation, by allowing generations unseen, to change their paragon of excellence. The shifting view and conscience of of these generations yet unborn, require a document with the power to bend as not to break. So long as liberty is the chief goal of this great American people, the Constitution, aided by it ability to meta-morph will stand as a beacon for all those who follow in the foot steps of her founders.