Is it too hard or too easy to amend the Constitution?
There have been over 3000 joint resolutions introduced in the Congress calling for amendments but less than 30 of these have been adopted by the necessary two-thirds vote of both houses, and only 21 have been ratified by the states.
The first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were all adopted within two years of the original acceptance of the Constitution. Eight of the original states adopted the Constitution only after receiving positive assurances that a Bill of Rights would be proposed immediately.
The 11th amendment concerning the judicial power, and the 12th governing the mode of electing the President were adopted to correct deficiencies in the original document. Then for 61 years no amendments were ratified. The 13th 14th and 15th grew out of the political turmoil and insecurity of the Civil War and were all passed within about 5 years. Then from 1870 until 1913, a period of 43 years, there were no additional amendments.
The 16th which allows a Federal income tax, and the 17th which provides for the direct election of senators both were declared in force in 1913. The 18th or National Prohibition Amendment went into effect in 1920 and was repealed by the 21st in 1933. the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote was ratified in 1919 and the 20th or “lame-duck” amendment gained the force of law in 1933. Amendments have been born in periods of strife and crisis.
Proposals to amend the Constitution must be passed by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress and then be ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states or by conventions called for that purpose in three-fourths of the states. The 21st amendment is the only one that has ever been submitted to conventions in the states, and the Utah convention was the 36th to ratify it. All other amendments have been submitted by the Congress to legislatures of the several states.
Congress is required to call a national convention for the purpose of proposing amendments, if two-thirds of the state legislatures request such a convention. Amendments so proposed would have to be submitted to the legislatures or conventions in the states for their ratification on the same basis as though they had been proposed by the Congress. this procedure has never been used as yet. All amendments have been proposed by the Congress.
A situation might arise in which all of the states would have to ratify a proposed amendment before it could go into effect. This is because no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.
The only proposal now before the states is the child-labor amendment. This was submitted in 1924 and provides that the Congress shall have power “to limit, regulate and prohibit the labor of persons under 18 years of age.”
Recent liberal Supreme court rulings have done away with much of the argument that could be used in favor of this amendment.
The fact that 150 amendments have been presented to the Congress for every one that has been finally accepted by the states has led some people to the conclusion that the procedure governing amendments is too difficult. On the other hand it can be said with equal logic that the procedure is too easy, otherwise either the 18th or the 21st amendments would never have been adopted, for one repeals the other.
The Constitution is the supreme law of the land; it is the permanent will of the people. It is above the enactments of the Congress. They express only the will of the majority of the people for the time being. Because of the nature of constitutions, it follows that the great fundamental rights of the people are preserved by them. These rights cannot be whittled away by laws passed by a temporary majority. It is in the interest of the people to make it difficult to override these rights and freedoms. the easier it is to amend a constitution the easier it will be for the rights of the people to be lost in times of war or of other emergencies.
On the other hand, if the basic law of the land cannot be altered to provide for changing social, economic and industrial conditions, it does not meet the needs of the people. One of the grave defects of the Articles of Confederation was that they could be changed only with the unanimous consent of the 13 colonies. From a practical standpoint this was impossible of achievement.
The will of two-thirds or the Congress and three-fourths of the states seems a reasonable restraint on majority rule. It is a safe guarantee of the rights of the people. Social and industrial changes can be provided for when the people really desire it. the
civil War amendments clearly illustrate that in times of need and crisis, the will of the people can be incorporated into the Constitution with speed and order.
The Constitution is neither too hard nor too easy to amend. It is just right.
which appeared on the editorial page (page 4) of
The Deseret News, 19 March 1945 through 10 April 1945.