Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Constitutional Amendments since the Bill of Rights

I got interested in the six Constitutional Amendments that have been passed by Congress but haven't been ratified by the states yet (ERA, Statehood for Washington, D.C., legalizing slavery!, etc.), which led me to look at the Amendments that have passed.

I figure the first ten Amendments, The Bill of Rights, are actually part of the original Constitution as they were ratified so soon after the Constitution itself. That leaves 17 actual Amendments that have passed Congress and been ratified by the states:

11th ratified 1798 - Prevents states from being taken to federal court by citizens of another state or foreign power.

12th ratifed 1804 - Splits The vote for president and vice-president to avoid possible ties.

13th ratified 1865 - Outlaws slavery.
14th ratified 1868 - Citizenship for former slaves and equal rights for all American citizens.
15th ratiifed 1870 - Voiting rights for former slaves.

16th ratified 1913 - Legalizes federal income taxes.

17th ratified 1913 - Allows direct election of Senators.

18th ratified 1919 - Prohibition.

19th ratified 1920 - Woman's sufferage.

20th ratified 1933 - Shortens Lame Duck period between elections and the winner taking office.

21st ratified 1933 - Repeals Prohibition.

22nd ratified 1951 - Linits President to two terms.

23rd ratified 1961 - Gives Wahington, D.C. some electoral votes for president (no more than least populous state (3)).

24th ratified 1964 - Eliminates Poll Taxes.

25th ratified 1967 - Clarifies presidential succession.

26th ratified 1971 - Gives 18 year olds the right to vote.

27th ratified 1992 - Raises Congress votes itself don't take effect until the next session.

So, 17 Amendments in 218 years.

Is the Amendment process working as intended?

Does it still have relavance?

Numbers: 1 Amendment in the 18th century, 4 in the 19th century, 12 in the 20th century.

So, at least the numbers are picking up, but are we really just seeing bursts of reform?

How important are each of the 17 Amendments?

Two, the 18th and 21st, cancel each other out, so they are practically worthless unless chalked up to "lessons learned."

Seven, the 12th, 17th, 20th, 22nd, 23rd, and 27th, are essentially bookkeeping Amendments, of minor importance, really. (The 27th was actually part of the Bill of Rights, but was one of two Amendments that weren't ratified).

That leaves eight that, IMHO, could be considered important.

The 11th Amendment, that prevents certain people from suing states, is interesting, but not really that important (legal scholars may differ).

The 24th Amendment, that outlaws Poll taxes, is of modest impotance. Only five states used them at the time it was ratified and I believe Civil Rights legislation was far more effective in preventing discrimination.

The 15th, 19th and 26th, allow, respectively, former slaves, woman and 18 year olds the right to vote. Very important to certain groups. In a class of their own, really.

So that leaves my top three Constitutional Amendments:

1. 14th - This one, again IMHO, is the number one Amendment. Citizenship defined, Due Process and Equal Protection clauses. As far as impact on average American citizens today, none come close.

2. 13th - Banned slavery, 'nuff said.

3. 16th - Allowed income taxes. Before, fedearal taxes had to be divided equally among the states based onpopulation.

I guess I'd have to say the Constitutional Amendment was important in spreading rights to all Americans over the years, but it is no longer an important part of modern governence.

Amendments are proposed these days are more publicity stunts for certain groups than actual attempts to change the Constitution.

America is deeply divided now, and the bar to pass an Amendment is so high (2/3 of both Houses of Congress plus 75% of the states), that it's hard to imagine another meaningful Amendment will be ever be passed again.


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