SS5CG2 The student will explain the process by which amendments to the U.S. Constitution are made.
a. Explain the amendment process outlined in the Constitution.
b. Describe the purpose for the amendment process.
SS4H5d Identify and explain the rights in the Bill of Rights, describe how the Bill of Rights places limits on the power of government, and explain the reasons for its inclusion in the Constitution in 1791.
The Amendment Process: Not an Easy Road
by Floyd Brooks
The Constitution of the United States of America is an amazingly complex document to amend, or change. There have been over 11, 539 proposals to amend the Constitution between 1789 and January 2, 2013; that is well over 200 years. However, of that amount, only 27 have been ratified, or accepted. What happened to all of the other proposals, you may ask? Well, they all failed to become new amendments.
The first ten amendments of the constitution are referred to as the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is designed to outline basic protections guaranteed to all citizens of the United States of America. For a change to be made to the Constitution of the United States, the vast majority of states (three-fourths) must agree, as well as two-thirds of Congress. Congress is often referred to as the “First Branch” of the federal government. The Congress of the United States is made up of representatives from the Senate, as well as the House of Representatives. Under the Constitution, Congress is responsible for organizing the other two branches of the federal government— the Executive Branch and the Judicial Branch. Congress is also in charge of raising money, declaring war on another country, and making new laws to effectively carry out their responsibilities as the “First Branch” of the federal government. The president (leader of the Executive Branch) is allowed to veto specific legislative acts, thus preventing them from becoming laws. However, Congress may override a presidential veto by a two-thirds majority vote of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The Framers, or creators, of the constitution designed the government to work in the manner in which it is currently working. The Framers wanted to make sure that no arm, or branch, of the federal government had total control of government. This is referred to as separation and balance of power in the government through a series of checks and balances. Each branch, executive, legislative, and judicial branch check each other so that no one branch can make decisions on their own.
The United States is a representative democracy. This means that the people of the United States elect their leaders to carry out the “will-of-the-people”. Even though the Framers made it difficult to make changes to the constitution, changes are possible. Therefore, they also created guidelines under which the Constitution of the United States may be amended, or changed. This is outlined under Article V of the United States Constitution.
Article V of the Constitution outlines two ways in which an amendment can be made to the Constitution of the United States. One way, has been used for all (27 of 27) ratified amendments made so far. In this method, Congress votes on a proposal before it is sent to the states. However, two-thirds of Congress must agree on the proposal before it can move ahead to the states. If two-thirds of Congress agrees, then the proposal will be sent to all 50 states for ratification, or acceptance. This ratification can either be done by the state legislatures or by conventions within the states. However, three-fourths of all states must approve of the proposal before it is added to the Constitution as an amendment.
The second way to make an amendment to the Constitution is to let the states start the process. This method has never been used before. States can start the process of requesting an amendment when two-thirds of states petition Congress for such a convention to propose amendments; these are called Constitutional Conventions. However, for the amendment to be accepted, it must be ratified by three-quarters of the states as well. Neither method is easy as you can see by the limited amount of proposals that have turned into actual amendments.
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