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The Twenty-seventh Amendment (Amendment XXVII) prohibits any law that increases or decreases the salary of members of Congress from taking effect until the start of the next set of terms of office for Representatives. It is the most recent amendment to the United States Constitution. It was submitted by Congress to the states for ratification on September 25, 1789, and became part of the United States Constitution in May 1992, a record-setting period of 202 years, 6 months and 12 days.
No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.
Several states raised the issue of Congressional salaries as they debated whether or not to ratify the 1787 Constitution. The North Carolina ratifying convention requested the following amendment, among others, be made to the Constitution:
The laws ascertaining the compensation of senators and representatives, for their services, shall be postponed in their operation until after the election of representatives immediately succeeding the passing thereof; that excepted which shall first be passed on the subject.
That the Compensation for the Senators and Representatives be ascertained by standing law; and that no alteration of the existing rate of Compensation shall operate for the Benefit of the Representatives, until after a subsequent Election shall have been had.
This amendment to the Constitution was introduced first in the House on June 8, 1789, by Representative James Madison of Virginia. One of a series of proposed Constitutional amendments, it was referred to a committee consisting of one representative from each State. After emerging from committee, the full House debated the issue and on August 24, 1789 passed it and sixteen other articles of amendment. The proposals went next to the Senate, where 26 substantive alterations were made. On September 9, 1789, the Senate approved a culled and consolidated package of twelve articles of amendment. Nothing was changed in this amendment.
On September 21, 1789, a House–Senate Conference Committee convened to resolve numerous differences between the House and Senate Bill of Rights proposals. On September 24, 1789, the committee issued its report, which finalized 12 Constitutional amendments for the House and Senate to consider. The House agreed to the Conference report that same day. The next day the Senate concurred.
Twelve constitutional amendments were sent to the states for their consideration on September 25, 1789. Ten of these proposals were ratified fifteen months later and are known collectively as the Bill of Rights. One, Article the First is still technically pending before the states.
There is some conflict as to the exact ratification dates of the Twenty-seventh Amendment. In some cases, a state's ratification resolution was signed by legislative officers before that state's second house had acted. In other cases, several governors subsequently "approved" the resolutions, even though gubernatorial action is not required by Article V (which requires ratification only by state legislatures or state conventions). Many state legislative journals are unavailable.
Under the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in Coleman v. Miller, 307 U.S. 433 (1939), any proposed amendment which has been submitted to the states for ratification and does not specify a ratification deadline may be ratified by the states at any time. In Coleman, the Supreme Court further ruled that the ratification of a constitutional amendment is political in nature—and so not a matter properly assigned to the judiciary.
The following states ratified this article, making it part of the Constitution:
The Twenty-seventh Amendment was also ratified by:
This proposed amendment was largely forgotten before University of Texas at Austin undergraduate student Gregory Watson wrote a paper on the subject in 1982. Despite receiving a 'C' grade on his paper by an instructor who deemed his idea 'unrealistic', Watson started a new push for ratification with a letter-writing campaign to state legislatures.
At the time Watson commenced his campaign in early 1982, he was aware of ratifications by only six states and he erroneously believed that Virginia's 1791 approval was the last action taken within the states. He learned in July 1983 that Ohio had approved it in 1873 and he learned in November 1984 that Wyoming did the same thing in 1978. Further, he did not know until 1997, some five years after ratification was completed, that Kentucky offered its ratification of the amendment in 1792. The first legislature to ratify as a result of Watson's campaign was Maine in April 1983, followed by Colorado in April 1984. Numerous state legislatures followed suit, and the ratification by Michigan on May 7, 1992 provided the 38th state ratification (Kentucky's 1792 ratification having been missed) required for the archivist to certify the amendment.
In certifying that the amendment had been duly ratified, the Archivist of the United States had acted under statutory authority granted to his office by the Congress under Title 1, section 106b of the United States Code, which states:
Whenever official notice is received at the National Archives and Records Administration that any amendment proposed to the Constitution of the United States has been adopted, according to the provisions of the Constitution, the Archivist of the United States shall forthwith cause the amendment to be published, with his certificate, specifying the States by which the same may have been adopted, and that the same has become valid, to all intents and purposes, as a part of the Constitution of the United States.
The response in Congress was sharp. Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia scolded Wilson for certifying the amendment as ratified without congressional approval. Although Byrd supported Congressional acceptance of the amendment, he contended that Wilson had deviated from "historic tradition" by not waiting for Congress to consider the validity of the ratification, given the extremely long lapse of time since the Amendment had been proposed. Speaker of the House Tom Foley and others called for a legal challenge to the amendment's unusual ratification.
On May 20, 1992, under the authority recognized in Coleman, and in keeping with the precedent first established regarding the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, each house of the 102nd Congress passed its own version of a concurrent resolution agreeing that the amendment was validly ratified, despite the unorthodox period of more than 202 years for the completion of the task.
Congressional cost of living adjustments (COLA) have been upheld against legal challenges based on this amendment. In Boehner v. Anderson, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the Twenty-seventh Amendment does not affect annual COLAs. In Schaffer v. Clinton, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that receiving such a COLA does not grant members of the Congress standing in federal court to challenge that COLA; the Supreme Court did not hear either case and so has never ruled on this amendment's effect on COLAs.