Questions! I seem to have so many of them. Do you as well?
My posts are generally about events, documents, people, symbols, or something exceptional about our nation. The more that I explore documents and learn about the Founding period, the more fascinating information I have to share with you. Sometimes, however, the exploration gets derailed as I try to figure things out. While composing each post, and now as I develop ebooks that are more in-depth explorations than I can post in a blog, I routinely find myself searching. It may be a meaning of a term, a point of clarification, an explanation of a process, the evolution of something we now think of as commonplace, or where an event fits on a timeline. Writings of the Founders, and the Founding Documents, are filled with terms and phrases that are seldom used in current literature. Processes of our government are discussed but the mechanics are seldom explained in detail. Events are referenced, but it sorting their progression may take some work. Elected officials, academics, and people in the media throw about terms in a rather cavalier fashion. In the course of one congressional debate I listened to, the manner in which two people reference a term seemed diametrically oppositional. Am I the only here who is scratching my head?
With all of this in mind, I have decided to add another type of post to this blog. Consider each one to be an addition to the “What IS Right With America Primer.” The posts will be brief and contain basic information which is intended to deepen your knowledge base. They will help you more fully grasp you read, what you hear, or perhaps even what you learn in my future ebooks!
Here’s the first one: How is a Constitutional Amendment Ratified?
To ratify means to consent or officially agree to or with something, but what is the specific process by which an amendment is added to the Constitution? At this time, all amendments to the Constitution have been passed by a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress. An amendment may be proposed by a convention convened at the request of two-thirds, or more, of the state legislatures. However, for the purpose of this discussion, let’s assume that a theoretical amendment has been passed by the Congress. Article 5 of the Constitution states that amendments will be added: “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.” Therefore, either the state legislature can ratify the amendment. Alternatively, a convention can be held within the state, and delegates to the convention would then vote on the amendment. At the present time, ratification can occur only after 38 states concur that the Constitution should be amended.
If you are interested in the “nitty-gritty” details of the process, Article 5 does not go into that with any specific detail. Originally the process of sending an amendment to the States after it had been passed by Congress was overseen by the Secretary of State. That responsibility was later assumed by the Administrator of General Services. Presently, 1 US Code Section 106b states: “Whenever official notice is received at the National Archives and Records Administration that any amendment proposed to the Constitution of the United States has been adopted, according to the provisions of the Constitution, the Archivist of the United States shall forthwith cause the amendment to be published, with his certificate, specifying the States by which the same may have been adopted, and that the same has become valid, to all intents and purposes, as a part of the Constitution of the United States.” The Archivist of the United States is the head of the National Archives and Records Administration. Many of the responsibilities given to the Archivist have been passed along to the Director of the Federal Register. When an amendment is passed by a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress, it is then forwarded to the Office of the Federal Register. The amendment’s legislative history is attached, and it is sent to the governor of each state. It is the state’s governor who then formally submits the amendment for consideration to the state legislature. If the amendment is ratified, a certificate of ratification is then sent back to the Director of the Federal Register. If verifiable ratification is received from 38 states, a formal proclamation is signed by the Archivist. The proclamation may, or may not be, witnessed by dignitaries such as the President.
Is there a deadline for ratification of an amendment? Well, there can be. Dillion v Gloss (1921), affirmed by the Supreme Court, stated that Congress may provide a deadline. However, no deadline is provided for in Article 5, and the 27th Amendment was ratified more than 200 years after it was initially suggested in the “Proposed Bill of Rights” passed by Congress in 1789.
There you have it! The first installment in my What IS Right With America Primer. Is there a term which you would like me to define? Is there a governmental process that seems as thick as mud? Are you unsure about how an American tradition evolved? Let me know. I am in search of the second installment!
The attached image is of the 1861 painting by William Bauly entitled: Our Heaven Born Banner.
Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D