The backstory of the last ratified constitutional amendment, after-the-jump…
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Years ago I had thought that the last constitutional amendment to the US Constitution came with the 18th (26th Amendment) vote in the 1960s. Then I learned that the 27th Amendment had been ratified there turned thirty in 1992 (about congressional pay raises) and had taken ages to go into effect…yet much of the later commentary (even on this site) has to do with technical issues ( because the Supreme Court never ruled on many aspects of its implications) and that seemed to me too far into the legal weeds.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that I learned the story behind its revival… and since regular readers know that the background stories are irresistible to me… well, that’s worth noticing.
First, the amendment itself, proposed in 1789:
It was one of the original twelve amendments proposed by James Madison…ten of which were ratified and became the Bill of Rights. Another that wasn’t ratified by the states was about the distribution of Congress… plus this one. The Annenberg Center explains the philosophy behind it:
Amendment XXVII prevents members of Congress from granting themselves raises during the current session. On the contrary, any increase adopted must take effect at the next session of Congress. Proponents of the amendment believed lawmakers are more likely to be cautious about raising congressional salaries if they have no personal stake in the vote.
Also, the rationale is that if people are really upset: they can vote against incumbents who voted for.
Apparently only seven states ratified it in its first incarnation (Ohio did so in 1873 as a token protest against a congressional pay raise, as did Wyoming in 1978 for similar reasons).
In 1982, more than 190 years after he was originally sent to the United States, a then-nineteen-year-old University of Texas (UT) student named Gregory Watson had to prepare an essay for his Poli-Sci class. on a “government process”. .
“I’ll never forget this as long as I live“, says Watson.”I pull out a book that contains a chapter of amendments that Congress sent to the state legislatures, but which were not sufficiently approved by the state legislatures to become part of the Constitution. And this one just jumped out at me.“
Watson was intrigued. He decided to write his article on the amendment and argue that it was still in effect and could be ratified. He handed it to his class teaching assistant and picked it up with a C.
The note was given by this teaching assistant, but when he called on his teacher Sharon Waite:
“I kind of peeked into it, but didn’t see anything particularly noteworthy about it and thought the C was probably fine.” she remembers.
Most people would have just taken the note and left it at that. Gregory Watson is not most people.
“So I thought at that time, “I’m going to have this thing ratified. » “
He launched a letter-writing campaign, trying to get lawmakers interested in his idea. Although he became a maniac on a mission, the responses ranged from “We do not care?” at “It’s too old” to nothing.
So …. somebody did answer.
And it was then-US Senator William Cohen of Maine (later to become Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Defense) who passed it on to someone associated with the Maine Legislative Assembly… who ratified in 1983. Watson had similar success in Colorado the following year.
The story appeared in a magazine called State legislatures and a Wyoming official, reading the magazine, confirmed that his state had also ratified the amendment six years earlier.
Gregory Watson (at his own expense) continued his letter-writing campaign…and more and more states began to ratify the amendment. It was 1992 – just thirty years ago – when there was a race to become the 38th decisive state to ratify between Michigan and New Jersey (the latter having voted against ratification in its original incarnation) that Michigan won. New Hampshire also ratified it in 1985 (having also rejected it in 1790).
In 2016, it reached its current stage where forty-six states have ratified it (excluding Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, and Pennsylvania). Before you get to (as ESPN shows”Forgive the interruption” would say) The great finish – some notes:
1) As some columnists on this site noted in 2010-2011, the amendment was ratified, but never ruled by the United States Supreme Court. The word “variant” alone is a subject among legal scholars, and there may be disputes if it is used.
2) While I think the amendment itself is worthy…I feel a little uncomfortable bragging about it. Congressional pay being set by lawmakers themselves is bad practice (somehow there should be some sort of commission) and failing that, this question lends itself to yahoos who s exclaim: “We shouldn’t pay these bums a penny!“Not to mention that it’s easy to get noticed if you’re rich, and late payments (for hell) are an open invitation to lobbyists…to remedy the situation.
3) And finally: one cannot help but think of the Equal Rights Amendment, blocked by the insertion of a ratification deadline, then of the murderous campaign of the late Phyllis Schlafly and now of the uncertainty of the States which recently ratified it…I hope I will live to see it enacted, but the legal issues involved are far beyond even my SorosMoney pay level.
In 2016, a UT professor named Zach Elkins became interested in how a former student’s article led to the ratification of a constitutional amendment, and he tracked down Sharon Waite, who had left the ‘UT to work on his family’s farm in South Texas years earlier (and had no luck getting a teaching job there). She wondered if all her diplomas and papers…were they worth it after all?
That changed when Elkins told him…that it was his former student who helped enact a constitutional amendment:
“A lot of people have said that you never know what kind of effect you’re going to have on others and on the world. And now that I’m 70, I’ve come to believe that it’s very, very true. And that’s when it really hit me because I thought to myself“You, just by giving this guy a grade he didn’t like, affected the US Constitution more than any of your fellow professors ever thought, and how ironic is that?”“
Professor Elkins asked her if she would agree to co-sign a request to change Watson’s grade from “C” to “A” – which she eagerly did – and on March 1, 2017 (thirty-five years later) , the University of Texas received (and later adopted) the request.
Let’s end this story of a long journey for Mr. Watson: with the 1964 hit song for folksinger Tom Paxton, I I can’t help but wonder where I’m bound.
Now on to the best reviews:
In the story from the front page on the amoral anti-abortion movement — dsnottselliot hits a home run; this rant is grade A.
And of Ed Traceyyour faithful correspondent this evening ……..
In the story from the front page about the secret service erasing all text messages from January 5 to 6, 2021 — guys links to an interesting Twitter thread on the subject.
Then enjoy Jotter’s wonderful (and now everlasting) *PictureQuilt™* below. Simply click on the image and it will magically take you to the comment containing that photo.
July 13, 2022
(REMARK: Any missing images in the quilt have been removed because (a) they came from an untrusted source that somehow slipped into the comments, or (b) it was an image from the DailyKos image library which didn’t have the permissions to allow others to use this.)
And finally: yesterday Top Mojo – mega-mojo intrepid Mike …… which saved this feature from oblivion: