Six Constitutional Amendments That Were Nearly Ratified (And Four that Still Could be)

“Hmm, a constitutional amendment against child labor? Seems a bit radical for my tastes.”

~Voters in the 1920s, apparently

constitution

The United States Constitution defines this nation more than any single document, and as a result it’s also a thing that a lot of people get really mad about sometimes, and that very few people have probably actually read all the way through. And really, what’s more American than getting pissed off about strongly defined positions you have based on nothing more than a few tidbits of information and a gut feeling? That said, it is an incredibly historically significant document, probably the most impactful pieces of government writing since, um, what, the Magna Carta? We really don’t know or care about government writing that isn’t the US Constitution, which we assure you we have not even tried to read.

Now, the most important part of the Constitution is the fact that it’s not set in stone—it can be changed. You know, that whole Amendments thing? It’s easy to forget that we can actually do that—go into our founding document and say, “You know, we don’t like this anymore, let’s change that part,” because even though we have submitted over 11,000 proposed Amendments since the founding of the nation (seriously), very few ever come close to even become a real thing. Sure, the ten year span from 1960 to 1971 saw a bunch of quick passing Amendments become a reality (The 23rd let’s Washington D.C. have Electoral College votes, the 24th has something to do with poll taxes and voting rights, the 25th solidifies presidential succession, and the 26th was arguably the most monumental, lowering the voting age to 18) but since then we’ve only had one Amendment come through, the 27th, which was originally proposed in 1789 and didn’t get ratified until 1992.

But since 1992? No amendments have really gotten close. Sometimes an Amendment will get vote on, but it’s almost always dead on arrival. In fact, it’s pretty difficult to get traction an any changes to the supreme law of our nation. For example, we almost got rid of the Electoral College in 1970. We were extremely close. It passed Congress, and it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the only reason it didn’t pass into law because the Senate filibustered it, so it never came to vote. Which made us think—are there any Amendments that actually passed, but were never ratified by states? The answer is not only yes, it’s yes to six different Amendments. And four of them could still be passed today! Which seems weird, right?

Anyway, let’s simplify legislation in a way to make any lawyer worth their salt piss themselves out of pure rage, and talk about…

Six Constitutional Amendments That Were Nearly Ratified (And Four that Still Could be)

bill of rights

When you think of Constitutional Amendments, the focus tends to fall on the Bill of Rights. There’s the Bill of Rights Amendment where the government can’t stop you from saying shit, there’s that one where the government can’t stop you from praying to shit, and there’s one where the government can’t search your shit without asking first. There may or may not be something about guns, though we doubt that could ever be cause of any controversy. And like, doesn’t one of them basically say the Army can’t stay at your place rent-free? Anyway, lot’s of stuff in there. But, honestly, you can make an Amendment about anything you want, no matter how specific. Like, the 20th Amendment, passed in 1932, just changes the day that Presidential and Congressional terms start. Literally, that’s it—it solely exists to push back the President’s Inauguration by a few months. There is also an awful very bad piece of shit Amendment, but let’s not get started on that nonsense.

Anyway, here are the six proposals that have gotten farther than any others, without making it to the goal line.

Equal Rights Amendment (Failed)

ERA

If there’s one proposal that you likely have already heard of, it would be this one. And it’s the one that, by far, got the closest—at one point it was only three states away from becoming the 27th Amendment (the 27th Amendment now is that one from the 1700s that basically says “if Congress gives themselves a raise they have to wait until the next term to get it.”) Originally written in 1923 by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman, it aimed to end legal distinctions between men and women—basically, you can’t pass laws that are different depending on if you are a man or a woman. This largely would be useful for things like divorce, property and employment, and was striving for, well, as it says in the name, equality. It received large support from middle-class women, though working class women opposed it, as they wanted specific women-focused protections in terms of working conditions and hours.

It was edited by Paul in 1943, and was introduced to Congress just about every year before surging in popularity in the 1970s. In 1972, the ERA passed both the Senate and House of Representatives with a two-thirds majority, where it was sent to states for ratification. It was given a deadline of 1979 to pass, which looked promising, with 35 of the necessary 38 states on board as of 1977. It had broad bi-partisan support from the legislature as well as former Republican and Democratic Presidents. And then Phyllis Schlafly happened. A staunch conservative who strongly supported traditional gender roles, she launched a campaign against the Amendment, claiming, among other things, that it would result in women being drafted into military service, remove the ability of divorced women to receive alimony, and, gasp, would lead to same-sex bathrooms. She claimed that it could lead to same-sex marriage (well, Phyliss, we have some news for you that you might not like), would disproportionately affect housewives with no job skills, and basically was an assault on traditional values.

As a result, the idea that “saying men and women are legally equals” started to lose popularity. Several states who had ratified it tried to walk it back, rescinding their ratification (though there is some question if that is constitutionally allowed), and after extending the deadline by three years and still not getting the necessary support from the final three states, the amendment officially failed in 1982.

Recently, support for the ERA has started up again, with Nevada and Illinois ratifying it. Technically, according to some lawmakers, the ERA is just one state away from passing, though that would require Congress to essentially pass another resolution retroactively changing the expiration date of the amendment. So who knows, this might again end up in the Constitution, but we wouldn’t hold our breath.

District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment (Failed)

DC voting

The District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment is the most recent Amendment to be put before states, and we’re pretty sure you can hazard a guess on what it does. Basically, it would make Washington D.C. its own state. Sort of. Technically it would still be, you know, the District of Columbia, but it would also repeal the 23rd Amendment (which limited the amount of electoral votes D.C. could have) and give them all the legislative rights of the other 50 states. That means its Electoral College delegate count would depend on its population, and it would receive full representation in the United States Congress.

There wasn’t any huge petition against it, or rigorous debate. It had seven years to pass to pass 38 states, and only got 15, probably because most people don’t really care one way or the other if Washington D.C. gets a few extra Congresspeople. Which, hey, we get it. If you tried to get an amendment saying, like, Utah should stop selling that shitty low-alcohol beer everywhere…well that’s a bad example, because now we just discovered our calling. We are now officially forming a lobby group to make the 28th Amendment, which bans Utah from serving shitty low-alcohol beer to appease the damn Mormons, a reality.

Congressional Apportionment Amendment (Still Pending Before States)

congressional apportionment

Okay, so this very well might be our favorite one of these, and since it was never given a deadline, we could still make this happen. And we totally have to, because it would cause absolute fucking chaos, which we are ALL FOR.

So here’s the deal. This Amendment was proposed on September 25th 1789. That’s where the Bill of Rights and the now-27th Amendments passed, and by 1792 it came within one state of passing, though no other states have ratified it since, so it’s stuck at 11. But right now you’re shaking your screen (stop doing that) and shouting, “What does it do though? What the hell is a congressional apportionment?” Well, this Amendment was meant to determine how large the House of Representatives would be. And oh boy, was it short-sighted. This was definitely a bill that kind of assumed America might not be a thing in thirty years.

The way the House of Representatives is set up now is not defined in the Constitution. Instead, Congress sets the size by statute, historically increasing the size of the house as population grew in the 19th century before setting it at a fixed 435 in 1911. That number jumped up in 1959 for three years to readjust for the admission of Hawaii and Alaska to the United States, but it has stayed at 435 ever since 1962. No matter how large America gets, these 435 Representative slots will be allocated out among the state proportional to each state’s population.

The Congressional Apportionment Amendment would not have done that. It super would not have done that. Instead, had we passed this reminder that the Founding Fathers don’t always know what the fuck they’re doing, Congress would require one representative for every 30,000 Americans, with that number slowly climbing up to 50,000, where it would remain for the history of the nation. At the time, the population of America was just a hair under four million people. That would have been about 130 House of Representatives. If this had gone through, and we went off the population of America as of the 2010 census, do you know how many members of the House we would have?

6,563!

Could you imagine the pure insanity of having six and a half thousand House of Representatives? Every member would get like fifteen seconds to speak on the floor every term. It would be the least effective government ever. Literally nothing could ever get done. Votes would take weeks. We can’t stop thinking about it. We would pay anything to get this Amendment to finally pass. It’s still a possibility! Do your part! Vote for the Anarchy Amendment!

Titles of Nobility Amendment (Still Pending Before States)

titles of nobility

This is another hilarious Amendment, if for no other reason than to show how insecure we were as a nation right when we got started. Back in 1810, we had only really been our own fully formed nation for about twenty or so years. There wasn’t a lot of time to really have that American identity set in, so people were really worried about their government being susceptible to kings and whatnot. As a result, Congress passed the Titles of Nobility Amendment, which would strip United States citizenship from anyone who accepted a title of nobility from another country.

If this seems like a very random thing to give this much of a shit about, the reason for everyone giving a shit about it is even more random. Apparently, in 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte’s younger brother, the unfortunately named Jerome, married a Baltimore resident named Betsy Patterson. Accounts differ, though most argue that she attempted to get aristocratic recognition for her son who, though born in the United Kingdom, was an American citizen due to her mother, you know, being an American. Some say that she wanted the recognition for herself, as she is often referred to as the Duchess of Baltimore in texts written about this Amendment. Either way, that shit happened in 1805, right before Napoleon forced his brother (NAMED JEROME) to annul the marriage. And five years later, Congress was so riled up about the whole thing they decided to make a whole Amendment to stop that shit from going down. Not only did it handily pass (the house vote was 87-3), it came within two states of ratification. This also did not have any deadline, so we could still pass it and, in doing so, strip the citizenship of every American who has ever been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

So if someone decided to champion for this Amendment after two hundred years, and they managed to get it successfully ratified, they could strip away American citizenship for George H.W. Bush, Rudy Giuliani, Kevin Spacey, Ronald Reagan, Bill Gates, Stephen Spielberg, and about a hundred other famous people. Which, frankly, would be even more hilarious than the whole 6,500 congressperson thing. So if you really want to stick it to the estate of Bob Hope for some reason, you now know the constitutional means you could get your revenge.

Corwin Amendment (Still Pending Before States)

corwin amendment

So the last two were kind of fun, right? Imagining if they got passed? This one isn’t. This one sucks ass. This one passed in 1861, right before the outbreak of the Civil War, and we’re pretty sure you’re cringing as you correctly guess what it’s about. Yeah, it’s not explicitly about slavery, but it is. And it’s not the good kind of slavery Amendment. James Buchanan endorsed the resolution, but as we all know he was a racist shitty herb, so that should give you an idea of what it entails.

The language is deceptively vague and simple. It says, “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to absolve 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.” Yeah, we know, it’s trying so hard not to say the word “slave” that it’s practically an FSU sophomore making a TikTok video of themselves singing “Ninjas in Paris.” The guts and bones of this bill just say you can’t make an Amendment that bans slavery—it was a sort of last ditch effort to stop border states from joining the Confederacy. It didn’t get much support—only five states ratified it, the latest being Illinois, though some question the validity of that vote.

We’re not exactly breaking boundaries here when we say that this is a bad and dumb Amendment. Like, yes, the one that says you are not allowed to stop states from doing slavery is not a good idea. Though, in our research we found something a bit…interesting. While Illinois was the last state to (maybe) ratify the Amendment, they’re not the last state to try to introduce it to vote. Nope, that’s because a joint resolution to ratify the Amendment was introduced to the Texas (sigh) House of Representatives in (get ready for the heaviest sigh imaginable) 19 fucking 63. 1963! What the actual shit! A Dallas State Congressman by the name of Henry Stollenwerck was the absolute piece of horseshit who tried to decriminalize slavery. Now, as he said it, he is anti-slavery, so don’t you worry. But it’s still not a good look, Henry. For fuck’s sake.

Henry Stollenwerck is pushing 90 now, and apparently recently wrote a novel about, and we’re not making this up, an 80-year-old former Marine sniper who has to protect himself and his new girlfriend from drug cartel hitmen attacking his South Texas ranch. Oh and if you’re wondering what the guy who most recently championed this Amendment for “not-pro-slavery-I-swear” reasons looked like, well here you fucking go.

henry stollenwerck

About what we expected. Anyway fuck that guy.

Child Labor Amendment (Still Pending Before States)

child labor amendment

When it’s taking place in America as opposed of helping us get a pair of Amazon Essentials jeans for just $12, we can all agree that child labor is bad. In 1924, Congress started to think the same, passing this simple Amendment that lets Congress limit, regulate, and prohibit labor from anyone under the age of eighteen. It was approved by 28 states, but unlike the ERA, this didn’t get held up because someone came out as being, like, pro-child-labor or anything. This one just fell out of favor because it wasn’t needed. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 essentially regulated child labor, and passed a challenge at the Supreme Court in 1941, though that really makes us wonder who was the asshole who was fighting a “child labor is bad” law all the way to the Supreme Court? Who was the Henry Stollenwerck of child labor, huh?

Anyway, we could get this one passed too, just for shits and giggles, but it would actively change nothing. Unlike all the new congresspeople who we’d have to immediately elect if we passed the Congressional Appointment Amendment. Join our team, we’ll be opening a GoFundMe for our campaign shortly. We demand 6,500 representatives! USA! USA!

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