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Twenty-seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution
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Twenty-seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution

Amendment XXVII (the Twenty-seventh Amendment) of the United States Constitution states:
No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

Interpretation and history

This amendment to the
United States Constitution provides that any change in the salary of members of Congress shall take effect only after the next general election. It was intended to serve as a restraint on the power of Congress to set its own salary—an obvious conflict of interest. Since its 1992 adoption however, it has not hindered Congress from imposing nearly annual pay raises, characterized as "cost of living adjustments" (COLAs) rather than as pay raises in the traditional sense of the term. The Federal courts have ruled in cases brought under the amendment that a COLA is not the same thing as a pay raise. Hence, members of Congress have been able to receive increases in compensation without triggering the restrictions imposed by the amendment.

This was one of the twelve constitutional amendments originally submitted by the 1st Congress in 1789, ten of which became the United States Bill of Rights in 1791. The other Unratified Amendment Twelve pertains to reapportionment of the United States House of Representatives following each decennial census and, technically, it is still pending before the state legislatures for consideration. If passed, the amendment would have little effect -- it would limit the number of representatives between 200 and nearly 6,000 (currently, there are 435 representatives). Therefore, the possibility of its passage is rather unlikely.

In the period from 1789 to 1791, the Congressional compensation proposal was ratified by only six states out of eleven then needed. As more states entered the Union, the ratification threshold increased. In 1873, Ohio lawmakers saw fit to ratify it. Forgotten for decades, the proposed amendment lay comatose until the 1980s when an employee in the Texas Legislature, Gregory Watson, rediscovered the proposal. The push for ratification began in earnest, and it officially joined the Constitution on May 5, 1992 when the Alabama Legislature became the 38th to ratify it, there being at the time fifty states in the Union and the Constitution requiring ratification in not less than three-fourths of the state legislatures. Under the 1939 ruling of the United States Supreme Court in the landmark case of Coleman v. Miller, any proposed amendment (for which Congress does not specify a ratification deadline) remains pending business before the states and the states may continue to consider the amendment regardless of the amendment's age.

For quite some time, it had been mistakenly believed that ratification on May 7, 1992, by the Michigan Legislature propelled the 27th Amendment into the U.S. Constitution. However, when the June 1792 ratification of all twelve amendments by the Kentucky General Assembly during that commonwealth's initial month of statehood later came to light, it was quickly realized that the 27th Amendment's incorporation into the Constitution was actually finalized two days earlier than previously thought—and by the state whose legislature acted immediately prior to Michigan's. Possibly unaware of the ratification actions taken in 1792, Kentucky lawmakers ceremonially approved the amendment a second time, more than two centuries later in 1996, and nearly four years after the amendment had already been made part of the nation's highest legal document.

In conformity with the Coleman v. Miller verdict, on May 20, 1992, both houses of the 102nd Congress—acting separately—adopted concurrent resolutions agreeing that the 27th Amendment was indeed validly ratified, despite the unorthodox period of more than 200 years for the completion of the task. But neither body adopted the concurrent resolution of the other.

External link


26th Amendment Amendments
United States Constitution