A constitutional amendment for every occasion? Congress seems to think so

Only 27 constitutional amendments have been adopted in US history, meaning that most proposals are forgotten with time. That doesn't stop members of Congress from introducing dozens every year, though.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D) of Illinois has proposed nine constitutional amendments during the current Congress. Over the course of history, congressmen have proposed 10,000 such amendments; only 27 have been adopted.

Amending the U.S. Constitution is like cleaning out the basement: It’s a task often contemplated, but seldom done.

Since 1791, members of Congress have proposed more than 10,000 constitutional amendments, according to “Amending America: If We Love the Constitution So Much, Why Do We Keep Trying to Change It?” by historian Richard Bernstein, with Jerome Agel.

Of those 10,000, 27 were adopted, and six others were approved by Congress but not ratified by the states. That’s a success rate of about 0.27 percent, for those keeping score at home.

“Not only do these numbers indicate how difficult the amending process is to use, but they also suggest how high the stakes are when we consider using it,” write Bernstein and Agel.

Enactment of an amendment to the Constitution requires a two-thirds “yea” vote in the House and Senate, plus the approval of three-quarters of the legislatures of the 50 states.

This subject is in the news because some in the GOP are pushing a constitutional amendment to ensure that children born in the US to illegal immigrants don’t automatically become US citizens. But “birthright citizenship” isn’t the only thing lawmakers are proposing to amend away: 70 or so amendments are pending on the House and Senate calendars.

There are proposed amendments to define marriage as between a man and a woman, and to require the US government to balance its books. Others would ban flag burning, or let Congress set limits on corporate and union political donations.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) of Illinois is an amendment proposal machine, with at least five to his credit, including one that would write into the Constitution that Congress must tax people proportionately relative to their incomes.

But our favorite proposed amendment was introduced by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota. It would prohibit the president from “entering into a treaty in which he would recognize as legal tender currency issued by someone other than the United States.”

Take that, yuan. Euro not wanted here.

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