The Story of the 27th Amendment
August 27, 2005 9:46 AM   Subscribe

The Forgotten Amendment: The story of the 27th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. Back in 1982, while doing research for a government class, UT Austin student Gregory Watson stumbled across an unratified constitutional amendment from 1789. Noticing that the amendment had had no time limit for ratification, Mr. Watson embarked upon a campaign to amend the U. S. Constitution. Sadly, Watson only earned a "C" on his paper for government class, in which he'd argued the amendment was still viable.
posted by Dr. Zira (14 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What had become of the government professor who gave him a "C" on his paper in 1982? I asked. "Oh, she's not teaching any more," Watson told me. "She's selling citrus fruit" down near the Mexican border.

I was compelled to trot that one out.
posted by rolypolyman at 10:15 AM on August 27, 2005

Very interesting post. I remember when the amendment was adopted, but didn't know of Watson's story.

I also think it's kind of interesting that the article was written by John Dean, of Watergate fame.
posted by cerebus19 at 10:20 AM on August 27, 2005

Amazing, and yet they still give themselves raises all the time. Can this be brought to a court or something? (and what a potent election issue too)

thanks, Dr.Zira!
posted by amberglow at 10:59 AM on August 27, 2005

Had this amendment been adopted, the House of Representatives would have become massive. The United States population reached 250,000,000 in 1990. Under the first proposed amendment, the House would have grown to 5,000 members.
5,000 congress critters. That would be totally awesome. We could put them all in one little walled-off village, and they could gossip to each other over their backyard fences, and have barbecues and affairs and their own little post office and a couple dirt roads and a general store on Main Street where they could buy sacks of flour and pickled eggs from the big jar, and on the second Tuesday of each month they'd gather there for the big town meeting, and they'd get to exercise their civic duties and wear away the evening jawboning about rights and responsibilities and how them guys from the next village over just ain't as smart as we-all is, and discuss the newcomers in town with a bit of suspicion because they have yet to join the Lions, nor the Rotary, nor the Grange, and how they haven't yet been seen down at the VFW neither, but you know, we ought to give them a chance, you know, sometimes it's hard moving to a new town, exceptin' that one feller, he's been making noises about how we maybe ought to of been doin' somethin' more'n just jawin' all day at Hank the barber's with them hound dogs snoozin' in the dusty sun, on account of -- remember them folks outside the wall? -- them folks, they sent us here to do somethin', only I can't quite rightly recall just what. Hell. I'll have another one, Vern. Them's some nice shootin' irons you got there.
posted by bigbigdog at 11:54 AM on August 27, 2005

Fascinating post -- thanks! (And I was glad to see the teacher apologized.)
posted by languagehat at 12:15 PM on August 27, 2005

I remember when this long-dormant amendment was ratified, but I hadn't heard that its adoption was due to the efforts of a one-man crusade, nor did I realize that Congress has been blithely ignoring the amendment. Interestingly, after the 27th amendment was raitified, congress scoured its records for other dormant, unratified amendments and terminated them.

On the topic of congressional representation, while I think that 5,000 congressmen is excessive, I think that if the House of Reps was expanded to 1,000 members, or so, it would help voters have a closer relationship with their congressman, and the work of congress and constituent service would not be as remote as it is now (as well as making it much more expensive for lobbyists to do their work).
posted by deanc at 1:25 PM on August 27, 2005

A beautiful synopsis of this very interesting event.
posted by caddis at 1:43 PM on August 27, 2005

bigbigdog: I'm sending you an invoice for my ruined keyboard.
posted by Dr. Zira at 6:35 PM on August 27, 2005

Does anyone know if anything has come of this since the article's publication almost three years ago?
posted by aaronetc at 11:12 PM on August 27, 2005

yeah, uh... the link is from 2002. I just skimmed TFA, so I don't get what the deal is? Is there something happening now? Or is this just fascinating constitutional loophole history trivia?
posted by mhh5 at 1:01 AM on August 28, 2005

The only action (odd Dean didn't mention it) has been the September 2001* denial of cert by the Supremes (meaning they won't review the case) of the Schaffer v. [Treasury Sec.] O'Neill lawsuit which was initiated against Clinton's T.S. The basic argument is that the Congressional COLAs, even with the "must vote to deny" procedure, do not violate the amendment because the adjustment does not take effect until the next term. (Additionally, the petitioner was ruled to lack standing, and the executive branch to have no jurisdiction; they wanted the Treasury to withhold Congressional pay.) This was the second lawsuit brought by a Congressman over the amendment; the other was denied for similar reasoning.

* Wonder why nobody noticed.

Dean has been writing for Findlaw on constitutional issues, rather expertly and neutrally, for several years now. One of his first columns was on Clinton's pardons, so he hasn't been, shall we say, shy. He's no fan of the Bush administration, either.
posted by dhartung at 3:11 AM on August 28, 2005

Is there something happening now?

Right, because if it's not breaking news, it shouldn't be on MetaFilter.

posted by languagehat at 4:57 AM on August 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

You know, thinking about this more, I have to agree that the COLA's violate neither the letter of the amendment (since they don't come from "new laws") nor the spirit (if they do indeed go info effect in the next Congress). However, I have a hard time seeing how anybody, as a taxpayer, wouldn't have standing to bring a case. Explanation?
posted by aaronetc at 6:40 AM on August 28, 2005

Until Congressional COLAs are separated from the old legislation which links those with COLAs for all federal employees, I'm stumped for an argument that would support a violation of the 27th.
Which sucks for all taxpayers, but especially Gregory Watson who spent so much time and money on this cause.
posted by Dr. Zira at 12:48 PM on August 28, 2005

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