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Twenty-seventh Amendment

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noun
an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1992, ensuring that no laws relating to Congressional salaries take effect until after the next Congressional election.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

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What is the Twenty-seventh Amendment?

The Twenty-seventh Amendment is an amendment of the US Constitution that states that a law which alters the pay of members of Congress will not take effect until after the next Congressional election.

The Constitution of the United States is the document that serves as the  fundamental law of the country. An amendment is a change to something. An amendment to the Constitution is any text added to the original document since its ratification in 1788. The Constitution has been amended 27 times in American history.

The Twenty-seventh Amendment is very short and reads:

“No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.”

The amendment says that if Congress passes a law that changes the pay of members of Congress, that law will not take effect until after the next Congressional election.

Some scholars argue that the purpose of the Twenty-seventh Amendment is to ensure voters have a chance to voice their opinions about Congressional pay increases. If a member of Congress votes to increase their own pay, angry voters have the opportunity to vote them out of office. With the amendment that member of Congress doesn’t actually increase their own pay but the pay of whoever replaces them, even if they replace themselves (by being reelected).

At the time of its passing, the Twenty-seventh Amendment was very popular because Congress was very unpopular. Today, Congress is even less popular than it was at that time, so the Twenty-seventh Amendment is likely to remain popular with the public (and less so with Congress) for the foreseeable future.

Why is Twenty-seventh Amendment important?

Of all of the amendments, the Twenty-seventy Amendment has had the most bizarre road to ratification. It was originally passed by Congress in 1789. It was one of 12 proposed amendments to add to the Constitution by a document authored by future president James Madison. While Congress passed all 12, only 10 were ratified by the states to become the Bill of Rights. As a result this passed amendment would not be ratified for over 200 years.

In 1982, University of Texas sophomore Gregory Watson began a letter-writing campaign to encourage state legislatures to ratify the Congressional pay amendment. In 1983, Senator William Cohen of Maine liked Watson’s idea and successfully pushed Maine to ratify the amendment.

After that, more states ratified it. By May 7, 1992, 38 states had voted to ratify the amendment, which was the required number needed to make it official. Likely fearing for their jobs, Congress declared the ratification legal and the Twenty-seventh Amendment has been part of the Constitution ever since.

As of 2021, the Twenty-seventh Amendment is the most recent constitutional amendment. By design, constitutional amendments are extremely hard to pass in Congress and just as hard to have states ratify. While many amendments are proposed every year, very few are ever actually voted on by either house of Congress.

Did you know … ?

Gregory Watson wrote a paper that argued the Twenty-seventh Amendment could be legally ratified after 200 years, which received a C grade from his professor, who disagreed with Watson’s argument. In 2017, Watson told media outlet NPR that the bad grade motivated his letter-writing campaign, saying, “So I thought right then and there, I’m going to get that thing ratified.” In 2018, the University of Texas officially retroactively changed the grade Watson received on the paper to an A+.

What are real-life examples of Twenty-seventh Amendment?

This photo shows the swearing-in of members of the 117th Congress. According to the Twenty-seventh Amendment, laws that alter the pay of members of Congress do not take effect until a Congressional election is over.

Most Americans are only aware of the Twenty-seventh Amendment as a neat bit of trivia. For Americans who hate Congress, however, they often think the Twenty-seventh Amendment doesn’t go far enough.

What other words are related to Twenty-seventh Amendment?

Quiz yourself!

Which of the following is affected by the Twenty-seventh Amendment?

A. the president
B. Congress
C. the Supreme Court
D. governors

How to use Twenty-seventh Amendment in a sentence

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