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Twenty-seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution
Amendment XXVII (the Twenty-seventh Amendment) of the United States Constitution states:
No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.
Interpretation and history
This amendment to the United States Constitution provides that any change in the salary of members of Congress may only take effect after the next general election. It was intended to serve as a restraint on the power of Congress to set its own salary—an obvious conflict of interest. Since its 1992 adoption, however, it has not hindered Congress from receiving nearly annual pay raises, characterized as "cost of living adjustments" (COLAs) rather than as pay raises in the traditional sense of the term. The Federal courts have ruled in cases brought under the amendment that a COLA is not the same thing as a pay raise. Hence, members of Congress have been able to enjoy increases in compensation without triggering the restrictions imposed by the amendment.
This was one of the twelve constitutional amendments originally submitted by the 1st Congress in 1789, ten of which became the United States Bill of Rights in 1791. The other unratified amendment from 1789 pertains to reapportionment of the United States House of Representatives following each decennial census and, technically, it is still pending before the state legislatures for consideration. It is very unlikely, however, that this reapportionment proposal will ever be ratified by lawmakers in a sufficient number of states.
In the period from 1789 to 1791, the Congressional compensation amendment was ratified by only six states out of eleven then needed. As more states entered the Union, the ratification threshold increased. In 1873, Ohio lawmakers saw fit to ratify it. The proposed amendment was forgotten again until the 1980s, when an employee in the Texas Legislature, Gregory Watson, rediscovered the proposal. The push for ratification began in earnest, and the amendment was finally ratified on May 5, 1992, when it was approved by the legislature of Alabama, the 38th state to assent, there being 50 states in the Union at the time. Under the 1939 ruling of the United States Supreme Court in the landmark case of Coleman v. Miller, () any proposed amendment (for which Congress does not specify a ratification deadline) remains pending business before the states and the states may continue to consider the amendment regardless of the amendment's age.
For quite some time, it had been mistakenly believed that ratification on May 7, 1992, by the Michigan Legislature propelled the 27th Amendment into the U.S. Constitution. However, when the June 1792 ratification of all twelve amendments by the Kentucky General Assembly during that commonwealth's initial month of statehood later came to light, it was quickly realized that the 27th Amendment's incorporation into the Constitution was actually finalized two days earlier than previously thought—and by the state (Alabama) whose legislature acted immediately prior to Michigan's. Possibly unaware of the ratification actions taken in 1792, Kentucky lawmakers ceremonially approved the amendment a second time, nearly 204 years later in 1996, and almost four years after the amendment had already been made part of the nation's highest legal document. In 1989, the North Carolina General Assembly likewise re-ratified the amendment, having first adopted it two centuries earlier in 1789.
In conformity with the Coleman v. Miller decision, on May 20, 1992, both houses of the 102nd Congress—acting separately—adopted concurrent resolutions agreeing that the 27th Amendment was indeed validly ratified, despite the unorthodox period of more than 200 years for the completion of the task. But neither body adopted the concurrent resolution of the other.
The legislatures of California, Illinois, and New Jersey (all in 1992), Rhode Island (1993), Hawaii (1994) and Washington (1995) all post-ratified the 27th Amendment, bringing to 45 the total number of states whose legislators approved it. In Pennsylvania, the House of Representatives approved the Amendment in 1992, but the legislation died in committee in the Pennsylvania Senate. Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska and New York also did not ratify it.
- Congressional Research Service. (1992). The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation. (Senate Document No. 103–6). (Johnny H. Killian and George A. Costello, Eds.). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
- The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation is available at:
- National Archives: 27th Amendment
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