September 30, 1997
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Ratification of Amendments to
the U.S. Constitution
David C. Huckabee
Specialist in American National Government
Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides two ways to propose amendments to
the document and two ways to ratify them. Amendments may be proposed either by the
Congress, by two-thirds votes of the House and the Senate (of those present and voting,
provided a quorum is present), or by a convention called by Congress in response to
applications from the legislatures of two-thirds (34) or more of the states.
Amendments must be ratified by three-quarters (38) or more of the states. The
Congress can choose to refer proposed amendments either to state legislatures, or to
special conventions called in the states to consider ratification. Only the 21st
Amendment (repeal of Prohibition) has been ratified by conventions held in the states.
In the period beginning with the First Congress, through September 30, 1997 (105th
Congress, 1st Session), a total of 10,980 proposals had been introduced to amend the
Constitution. Thirty-three of these were proposed by Congress to the states, and 27
have been ratified. Excluding the 27th Amendment (Congressional Pay), which took
more than 202 years, the longest pending proposed amendment that was successfully
ratified was the 22nd Amendment (Presidential Tenure), which took three years, nine
months, and four days. The 26th Amendment (18-year-old vote) was ratified in the
shortest time: three months and 10 days. The average ratification time was one year,
eight months, and seven days.
The practice of limiting the time available to the states to ratify proposed amendments
began in 1917 with the 18th Amendment (Prohibition). All amendments proposed since
then, with the exception of the 19th (Women's Suffrage) and the proposed child labor
amendment, have included a deadline either in the body of the amendment proposed to the
states, or in the joint resolution transmitting the amendment to the states to be ratified.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
The 20th through 22nd Amendments incorporated the ratification deadline in the
body of the amendment, so these amendments' deadlines are now part of the Constitution.
Beginning with the 23rd Amendment, Congress began imposing the seven-year deadline
in the joint resolutions transmitting the amendments to the state legislatures in order to
avoid including extraneous language in the Constitution.1
The ratification deadline "clock" begins running on the day final action is completed
in Congress (presidential approval of proposed amendments is not necessary). The
amendment may be ratified at any time after final congressional action, even though the
states have not been officially notified. The Archivist of the United States officially
notifies the states (by registered letters to the governors) that an amendment has been
proposed. The Archivist also keeps track of state ratifications and issues a proclamation
when ratification is completed.2
The rules governing the consideration of proposed amendments vary among the
states. Many legislatures require proposed amendments to be approved by "constitutional
majorities"—a majority of the membership of the legislature (rather than a quorum for
doing other legislative business). Some states require amendments to be ratified by the
same margin as a proposed amendment to their state constitutions; others only require a
majority of the legislators present and voting (provided a quorum is present). At least
seven states require a "supermajority"3 vote in one or more "chamber, either by rule,
statute, or state constitution."4
The unprecedented time period of the 27th Amendment's successful ratification, and
the decision by the 95th Congress to extend the seven-year deadline for the proposed
Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) for an additional two years, 10 months, and 16 days,5 has
prompted speculation that Congress might have the power to revive other amendments
proposed without ratification deadlines (in the body of the amendment) by enacting new
ratification deadlines. At this writing, this matter is unresolved, but constitutional scholars
See: Walter Dellinger, "The Legitimacy of Constitutional Change: Rethinking the
Amendment Process," Harvard Law Review, vol. 97, Dec. 1983, p. 408. Two exceptions to this
practice were the 27th Amendment, because it was proposed in 1789, and the proposed District of
Columbia voting representation amendment, where a seven-year time limit was included in the body
Pursuant to 1 U.S.C. 106b.
A "supermajority" requires more than a simple majority (one half, plus one). A
supermajority ratification requirement for proposed amendments has been recognized by a federal
District Court. In Dyer v. Blair, 390 F. Supp. 1291 (N.D. Ill. 1975), a federal District Court
upheld an Illinois supermajority requirement for ratification of a proposed amendment to the U.S.
The seven States requiring "supermajority" votes to ratify amendments are Alabama,
Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, and Kansas. See Scott Mackey and Brenda
Erickson, The Balanced Budget Amendment: The Road to Ratification: A Preliminary Report,
(Washington: National Conference of State Legislatures, 1995), p. 4.
The Equal Rights Amendment was proposed on March 22, 1972. The original ratification
deadline of March 21, 1979 was extended until January 30, 1982, with the adoption of H.J. Res.
638 on October 11, 1978.
distinguish the Equal Rights Amendment extension from efforts to revive amendments
whose deadlines have expired because the ERA deadline was extended before the original
deadline had expired.
The following tables list information about amendments that were proposed by
Congress. Table 1 lists the dates of proposal and ratification, and the number of days each
successful amendment was pending before the states before ratification. Table 2 provides
summary statistics about amendments, and Table 3 lists the amendments Congress
proposed that were not ratified by the states. Table 3 provides the date the amendment
was proposed, its ratification deadline (if it had any) and the number of states that ratified
Table 1. Time Required to Ratify Constitutional Amendments
1—Religion, speech, assembly
4—Searches and seizures
5—Rights of persons
6—Rights of accused
8—Punishment for crime
11—Suits against states
12—Election of Pres. & Vice Pres.
15—Right to vote
17—Pop. election of Senators
20—Commencement of terms
21—Repeal of prohibition
23—Pres. electors for D.C.
24—Abolition of poll taxes
25—Pres. vacancy, disability
Source: For dates proposed and ratified: U.S. Congress, House. The Constitution of the United States
of America, As Amended, H. Doc. 102-188, 102nd Cong., 2nd sess., (Washington: GPO, 1992). Time
to ratify calculated by CRS.
Table 2. Range, Mean, and Median Values for Ratifying
Ratifying Constitutional Amendments
(Excluding 27th Amendment)
Maximum time to ratify
Minimum time to ratify
18th & 19th centuries
18th - 20th centuries
Mean and median times to ratify
Table 3. Unratified Amendments
apportionment of Representatives among the
TITLES OF NOBILITY—Revokes
citizenship of people accepting titles of
nobility or "any present, pension, office or
emolument of any kind whatever, from any
emperor, king, prince or foreign power."
amendments that will authorize Congress to
"abolish or interfere, within any State, with
the domestic institutions thereof, including
that of persons held to labor or service by
the laws of said State."
CHILD LABOR—Gives Congress the
"power to limit, regulate, and prohibit the
labor of persons under 18 years of age."
EQUAL RIGHTS—"Equality of rights
under the law shall not be denied or
abridged by the United States or by any
State on account of sex."
D.C. REPRESENTATION—Treats the
District of Columbia "as a State ... for the
purposes of representation in the Congress,
election of the President and Vice President,
and article V of this Constitution."
Sources: U.S. Congress, House, The Constitution of the United States of America As Amended, H. Doc. No.
102-188, 102nd Cong., 2nd sess, (Washington: GPO, 1992); U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional
Research Service, Proposed Amendments to the Constitution of United States of America Introduced in
Congress from the 91st Congress, 1st Session, Through the 98th Congress, 2nd Session, January 1969December 1984, by Richard A. Davis, CRS Report 85-36 GOV, (Washington: Feb . 1, 1985.)