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Ratification of Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

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Publication Date: September 1997

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: 97-922

Topic: Government (Legislative power and procedure)

Abstract:

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.