Article V

Article V spells out the two-step process by which the Constitution can be amended or changed. The first step is “proposing an amendment.” Article V provides that there are only two ways to propose an amendment: (1) by a two-thirds vote of the members of both houses of the U. S. Congress; or (2) by a national convention called by Congress when two-thirds of the states petition Congress to do so. Once an amendment has been proposed by one of these two methods, the second step is “ratification of the proposed amendment.” Article V provides that there are only two ways by which a proposed amendment can be ratified and that Congress decides which of the two ways shall be used: (1) by the state legislatures of three-fourths of the states; or (2) by special state conventions in three-fourths of the states.

Article V originally provided that there were two parts of the Constitution which were protected from being amended. One was that prior to 1808 no amendment could change that part of Article I, Section 9 which forbade Congress to interfere with “the slave trade.” That limit is no longer valid today. Consequently, the only limit today provides that no state, without its consent, can be denied its equal representation in the U. S. Senate.

NOTE: The President has no formal role in the amendment process other than the fact that he can indicate his support for or his opposition to a proposed amendment. He does not possess a veto over proposed amendments.

NOTE: The national convention method for proposing an amendment has never been used, probably because there are too many unanswered questions about it. All amendments thus far added to the Constitution have been proposed by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress.

NOTE: Of the two methods by which a proposed amendment can be ratified, the special state convention method, as Congress decided, has only been used one time. The Twenty-First Amendment is the only amendment ever ratified by that method. The 21st Amendment is thus unique for two reasons, the second reason being that it is the only amendment ever added to repeal another amendment (the Eighteenth Amendment which had called for the prohibition of alcohol in the U. S.).

NOTE: Article V sets no time limit for the states to make up their minds whether to ratify after a proposed amendment is sent to them for ratification. However, Congress can set a time limit. For every recent proposed amendment, Congress has set a seven year time limit. If Congress does not set a time limit, since the Constitution does not, then the states have forever.

NOTE: In the history of the U. S. under this Constitution, there have been thousands of ideas for proposed amendments, but Congress has only proposed 33 amendments. Of those 33, the required number of states have ratified 27 which would seem to indicate that the most difficult step is getting an amendment proposed. The most recent proposed amendment which failed to be ratified by the required number of states was a proposed amendment which would have treated the District of Columbia as a state and given it representation in both houses of Congress.

NOTE: One of the most important uses of the amendment process has been to overrule a decision of the U. S. Supreme Court. Four of the twenty-seven amendments added to the Constitution have been added for that precise purpose: (1) Eleventh; (2) Fourteenth; (3) Sixteenth; and (4) Twenty-Sixth.

NOTE: Aside from the first ten amendments (the Bill of Rights), which were added to guarantee fundamental rights of the American people, another important reason for amending the Constitution has been for the purpose of extending the right to vote. These five amendments were added for that purpose: (1) Fifteenth; (2) Nineteenth; (3) Twenty-Third; (4) Twenty-Fourth; and (5) Twenty-Sixth.