Some Things Just Take Time

THOUGH James Madison's work for the Republic is generally considered long over, in fact it goes on. In 1789, the drafter of the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments to the Constitution) also wrote two other amendments that were passed by Congress and submitted for ratification by three-fourths of the states. Last week - 203 years later - one of the amendments made it.

It will become the 27th amendment to the Constitution ... maybe.

The amendment prohibits any pay raise voted by members of the House or Senate from taking effect "until an election of Representatives shall have intervened." What seemed a good idea to Madison two centuries ago seems an even better idea to many Americans at a time of widespread disgust with congressional perks and performance.

On May 7, Michigan's Legislature made it the 38th state to ratify the pay-raise amendment after Maryland started the ball rolling - well, creeping - Dec. 19, 1789 (New Jersey also ratified the amendment within hours after Michigan). The first Congress placed no time limit on the ratification process, in contrast to the modern practice.

Some legal scholars believe that, even without a time limit, the new amendment should not be given effect. An amendment to the foundational document of the US, they say, should reflect the roughly contemporaneous view of a large majority of the American people.

Even by that standard, though, the new amendment deserves consideration. Only seven states ratified the amendment prior to 1978. Twenty-nine states have ratified it just since 1985, including many of the most populous states like Texas, Florida, and Illinois, besides Michigan and New Jersey.

In 1939 the Supreme Court ruled that it's up to Congress to determine if a proposed constitutional amendment is invalid for lapse of time. Given the current public mood, would Congress dare to suggest that a mild impediment to congressional pay hikes should fail for lack of a national consensus?

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