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Article 5 of the Constitution summarises how the United States Constitution can be changed or amended from its original wording.
The constitutional amendment process was built into the Constitution
A way to change the Constitution was needed because the writers of the Constitution knew that they had not created a finished document.
Several important constitutional amendments needed to be passed right away for the Constitution to get ratified, as some states vowed not to ratify the Constitution without these amendments.
Article 5 of the US Constitution Explains the Amendment Process
These first amendments – ten in all – are collectively called the Bill of Rights.
Writers of the Constitution allowed change in the future
Why did the framers of the constitution include the amendment process?
Knowing that the country would change over time, the framers wanted the Constitution to change with the country’s times and needs. To enable these changes, they wrote an amendment process into the Constitution. This amendment process is described in Article 5 of the Constitution.
Under the procedures specified in Article 5, the Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times. The first ten were adopted in 1791 as the Bill of Rights. The other seventeen amendments were adopted between 1795 and 1992.
The Amendment Process
There are two ways to amend the Constitution.
The first method is that an amendment can be proposed from either the House of Representatives or the Senate and then sent for approval by the state legislatures.
The second method is for a state or states to call for a constitutional convention. Both houses need to approve this proposal of Congress.
How many states must ratify an amendment?
In either case, an amendment proposal must pass in both the House and Senate by a two-thirds majority and must then be ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures (this would currently require ratification by 38 states).
Ratification is the process by which an amendment or a constitution is approved by the states and for it to become law.
The 3rd and 4th ways to amend the Constitution
However, looking deeper, there are four ways to amend the US Constitution. Here are the four ways the constitution can be amended:
- A proposal by Congress with ratification by state legislatures.
- A proposal by a convention of states with ratification by state conventions.
- A proposal by a convention of states with ratification by state legislatures.
- A proposal by Congress with ratification by state conventions.
The first is the method that has been used for all but one of the amendments.
Methods two and three have never been used to pass a constitutional amendment.
Another version of method three is that the states can call on Congress to convene a convention. Usually, a time limit is imposed in the amendment’s writing (typically seven years) so that the process will not be dragged out indefinitely.
If the time limit expires before the required three-fourths majority ratifies the amendment, the amendment fails to become law.
The Difficult Process of Amending the Constitution
The four methods to amend the Constitution are tedious and challenging to achieve. The requirement to work through both houses of Congress and the state governments’ legislatures is a significant obstacle to overcome because of the large number of legislators involved. A considerable number of these legislators need to agree on the need for and wording of the proposed amendment.
A two-thirds majority must be reached in both the House and Senate and at least three-quarters of the states must ratify it. Otherwise, the proposed amendment will be defeated.
There are numerous places in this adoption process where it can go awry. For an amendment to succeed in being adopted, there must be a high degree of bipartisan cooperation.
Maintaining the Stability of the Government
Why did the framers make changing the Constitution so difficult in Article 5?
One reason was that the framers needed to lock in the political deals made to get the Constitution ratified. Several states made it known they would not vote in favor of the Constitution if certain rights were not guaranteed.
Even as the Constitution’s merits were being debated in the state legislatures, the framers worked on the first twelve amendments to be adopted right away.
As it turned out, two of those amendments were rejected, but ten were ratified (the Bill of Rights) soon after the Constitution was adopted. As a result, article 5 was created to make it possible for amendments to be adopted to the Constitution.
Article 5 was visionary.
The more important reason to make the amendment process difficult was a more visionary idea. The framers believed that making changes to the Constitution a lengthy and difficult process would help maintain the nation’s laws stability.
They did not want it to be possible for arbitrary changes to be made to the Constitution, yet if changes were needed, the difficulty would guarantee that the change was needed and well thought out.
Article 5 References Article 1, Section 9
Moreover, article 5 says no amendment can deprive a state of its full representation in the US Senate.
Article 5 also says that the US President has no role in any part of the formal amendment process.
Article 5, Part of a Well Crafted Document
In Article 5, the US Constitution writers carefully crafted a document to ensure the new country’s strength and stability. As a result, the Constitution has helped maintain the United States government’s stability for well over 200 years.