The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the United States. The Constitution, originally comprising seven articles, delineates the national frame of government. Its first three articles embody the doctrine of the separation of powers, whereby the federal government is divided into three branches: the legislative, consisting of the bicameral Congress (Article One); the executive, consisting of the President (Article Two); and the judicial, consisting of the Supreme Court and other federal courts (Article Three). Articles Four, Five and Six embody concepts of federalism, describing the rights and responsibilities of state governments, the states in relationship to the federal government, and the shared process of constitutional amendment. Article Seven establishes the procedure subsequently used by the thirteen States to ratify it. It is regarded as the oldest written and codified national constitution in force.
Since the Constitution came into force in 1789, it has been amended 27 times, including an amendment to repeal a previous one, in order to meet the needs of a nation that has profoundly changed since the eighteenth century. In general, the first ten amendments, known collectively as the Bill of Rights, offer specific protections of individual liberty and justice and place restrictions on the powers of government. The majority of the seventeen later amendments expand individual civil rights protections. Others address issues related to federal authority or modify government processes and procedures. Amendments to the United States Constitution, unlike ones made to many constitutions worldwide, are appended to the document. All four pages of the original U.S. Constitution are written on parchment.
According to the United States Senate: "The Constitution's first three words—We the People—affirm that the government of the United States exists to serve its citizens. For over two centuries the Constitution has remained in force because its framers wisely separated and balanced governmental powers to safeguard the interests of majority rule and minority rights, of liberty and equality, and of the federal and state governments."
The first permanent constitution of its kind,[a] adopted by the people's representatives for an expansive nation, it is interpreted, supplemented, and implemented by a large body of constitutional law, and has influenced the constitutions of other nations.
|United States Constitution|
Page one of the original copy of the Constitution
|Jurisdiction||All States and Territories|
|Created||September 17, 1787|
|Presented||September 28, 1787|
|Ratified||June 21, 1788|
|Date effective||March 4, 1789|
|Judiciary||Supreme, Circuits, Districts|
|Entrenchments||2, 1 still active|
|First legislature||March 4, 1789|
|First executive||April 30, 1789|
|First court||February 2, 1790|
|Last amended||May 5, 1992|
|Commissioned by||Confederation Congress|
|Signatories||39 of the 55 delegates|
|Supersedes||Articles of Confederation|
From September 5, 1774, to March 1, 1781, the Continental Congress functioned as the provisional government of the United States. Delegates to the First (1774) and then the Second (1775–1781) Continental Congress were chosen largely through the action of committees of correspondence in various colonies rather than through the colonial or later state legislatures. In no formal sense was it a gathering representative of existing colonial governments; it represented the dissatisfied elements of the people, such persons as were sufficiently interested to act, despite the strenuous opposition of the loyalists and the obstruction or disfavor of colonial governors. The process of selecting the delegates for the First and Second Continental Congresses underscores the revolutionary role of the people of the colonies in establishing a central governing body. Endowed by the people collectively, the Continental Congress alone possessed those attributes of external sovereignty which entitled it to be called a state in the international sense, while the separate states, exercising a limited or internal sovereignty, may rightly be considered a creation of the Continental Congress, which preceded them and brought them into being.
The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union was the first constitution of the United States. It was drafted by the Second Continental Congress from mid-1776 through late 1777, and ratification by all 13 states was completed by early 1781. The Articles of Confederation gave little power to the central government. The Confederation Congress could make decisions, but lacked enforcement powers. Implementation of most decisions, including modifications to the Articles, required unanimous approval of all thirteen state legislatures.
Although, in a way, the Congressional powers in Article 9 made the "league of states as cohesive and strong as any similar sort of republican confederation in history", the chief problem was, in the words of George Washington, "no money". The Continental Congress could print money but it was worthless. Congress could borrow money, but couldn't pay it back. No state paid all their U.S. taxes; some paid nothing. Some few paid an amount equal to interest on the national debt owed to their citizens, but no more. No interest was paid on debt owed foreign governments. By 1786, the United States would default on outstanding debts as their dates came due.
Internationally, the United States had little ability to defend its sovereignty. Most of the troops in the 625-man United States Army were deployed facing – but not threatening – British forts on American soil. They had not been paid; some were deserting and others threatening mutiny. Spain closed New Orleans to American commerce; U.S. officials protested, but to no effect. Barbary pirates began seizing American ships of commerce; the Treasury had no funds to pay their ransom. If any military crisis required action, the Congress had no credit or taxing power to finance a response.
Domestically, the Articles of Confederation was failing to bring unity to the diverse sentiments and interests of the various states. Although the Treaty of Paris (1783) was signed between Great Britain and the U.S., and named each of the American states, various states proceeded blithely to violate it. New York and South Carolina repeatedly prosecuted Loyalists for wartime activity and redistributed their lands. Individual state legislatures independently laid embargoes, negotiated directly with foreign authorities, raised armies, and made war, all violating the letter and the spirit of the Articles.
In September 1786, during an inter–state convention to discuss and develop a consensus about reversing the protectionist trade barriers that each state had erected, James Madison angrily questioned whether the Articles of Confederation was a binding compact or even a viable government. Connecticut paid nothing and "positively refused" to pay U.S. assessments for two years. A rumor had it that a "seditious party" of New York legislators had opened a conversation with the Viceroy of Canada. To the south, the British were said to be openly funding Creek Indian raids on Georgia, and the state was under martial law. Additionally, during Shays' Rebellion (August 1786 – June 1787) in Massachusetts, Congress could provide no money to support an endangered constituent state. General Benjamin Lincoln was obliged to raise funds from Boston merchants to pay for a volunteer army.
Congress was paralyzed. It could do nothing significant without nine states, and some legislation required all thirteen. When a state produced only one member in attendance, its vote was not counted. If a state's delegation were evenly divided, its vote could not be counted towards the nine-count requirement. The Articles Congress had "virtually ceased trying to govern". The vision of a "respectable nation" among nations seemed to be fading in the eyes of revolutionaries such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Rufus King. Their dream of a republic, a nation without hereditary rulers, with power derived from the people in frequent elections, was in doubt.
On February 21, 1787, the Confederation Congress called a convention of state delegates at Philadelphia to propose a plan of government. Unlike earlier attempts, the convention was not meant for new laws or piecemeal alterations, but for the "sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation". The convention was not limited to commerce; rather, it was intended to "render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union." The proposal might take effect when approved by Congress and the states.
On the appointed day, May 14, 1787, only the Virginia and Pennsylvania delegations were present, and so the convention's opening meeting was postponed for lack of a quorum. A quorum of seven states met and deliberations began on May 25. Eventually twelve states were represented; 74 delegates were named, 55 attended and 39 signed. The delegates were generally convinced that an effective central government with a wide range of enforceable powers must replace the weaker Congress established by the Articles of Confederation.
Two plans for structuring the federal government arose at the convention's outset:
On May 31, the Convention devolved into a "Committee of the Whole" to consider the Virginia Plan. On June 13, the Virginia resolutions in amended form were reported out of committee. The New Jersey plan was put forward in response to the Virginia Plan.
A "Committee of Eleven" (one delegate from each state represented) met from July 2 to 16 to work out a compromise on the issue of representation in the federal legislature. All agreed to a republican form of government grounded in representing the people in the states. For the legislature, two issues were to be decided: how the votes were to be allocated among the states in the Congress, and how the representatives should be elected. In its report, now known as the Connecticut Compromise (or "Great Compromise"), the committee proposed proportional representation for seats in the House of Representatives based on population (with the people voting for representatives), and equal representation for each State in the Senate (with each state's legislators generally choosing their respective senators), and that all money bills would originate in the House.
The Great Compromise ended the stalemate between "patriots" and "nationalists", leading to numerous other compromises in a spirit of accommodation. There were sectional interests to be balanced by the Three-Fifths Compromise; reconciliation on Presidential term, powers, and method of selection; and jurisdiction of the federal judiciary.
On July 24, a "Committee of Detail" – John Rutledge (South Carolina), Edmund Randolph (Virginia), Nathaniel Gorham (Massachusetts), Oliver Ellsworth (Connecticut), and James Wilson (Pennsylvania) – was elected to draft a detailed constitution reflective of the Resolutions passed by the convention up to that point. The Convention recessed from July 26 to August 6 to await the report of this "Committee of Detail". Overall, the report of the committee conformed to the resolutions adopted by the Convention, adding some elements. A twenty-three article (plus preamble) constitution was presented.
From August 6 to September 10, the report of the committee of detail was discussed, section by section and clause by clause. Details were attended to, and further compromises were effected. Toward the close of these discussions, on September 8, a "Committee of Style and Arrangement" – Alexander Hamilton (New York), William Samuel Johnson (Connecticut), Rufus King (Massachusetts), James Madison (Virginia), and Gouverneur Morris (Pennsylvania) – was appointed to distill a final draft constitution from the twenty-three approved articles. The final draft, presented to the convention on September 12, contained seven articles, a preamble and a closing endorsement, of which Morris was the primary author. The committee also presented a proposed letter to accompany the constitution when delivered to Congress.
The final document, engrossed by Jacob Shallus, was taken up on Monday, September 17, at the Convention's final session. Several of the delegates were disappointed in the result, a makeshift series of unfortunate compromises. Some delegates left before the ceremony, and three others refused to sign. Of the thirty-nine signers, Benjamin Franklin summed up, addressing the Convention: "There are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them." He would accept the Constitution, "because I expect no better and because I am not sure that it is not the best".
The advocates of the Constitution were anxious to obtain unanimous support of all twelve states represented in the Convention. Their accepted formula for the closing endorsement was "Done in Convention, by the unanimous consent of the States present." At the end of the convention, the proposal was agreed to by eleven state delegations and the lone remaining delegate from New York, Alexander Hamilton.
Transmitted to the Congress of the Confederation, then sitting in New York City, it was within the power of Congress to expedite or block ratification of the proposed Constitution. The new frame of government that the Philadelphia Convention presented was technically only a revision of the Articles of Confederation. After several days of debate, Congress voted to transmit the document to the thirteen states for ratification according to the process outlined in its Article VII. Each state legislature was to call elections for a "Federal Convention" to ratify the new Constitution, rather than consider ratification itself; a departure from the constitutional practice of the time, designed to expand the franchise in order to more clearly embrace "the people". The frame of government itself was to go into force among the States so acting upon the approval of nine (i.e. two-thirds of the 13) states; also a departure from constitutional practice, as the Articles of Confederation could only be amended by unanimous vote of all the states.
Three members of the Convention – Madison, Gorham, and King – were also Members of Congress. They proceeded at once to New York, where Congress was in session, to placate the expected opposition. Aware of their vanishing authority, Congress, on September 28, after some debate, resolved unanimously to submit the Constitution to the States for action, "in conformity to the resolves of the Convention", but with no recommendation either for or against its adoption.
Two parties soon developed, one in opposition, the Anti-Federalists, and one in support, the Federalists, of the Constitution; and the Constitution was debated, criticized, and expounded upon clause by clause. Hamilton, Madison, and Jay, under the name of Publius, wrote a series of commentaries, now known as The Federalist Papers, in support of ratification in the state of New York, at that time a hotbed of anti-Federalism. These commentaries on the Constitution, written during the struggle for ratification, have been frequently cited by the Supreme Court as an authoritative contemporary interpretation of the meaning of its provisions. The dispute over additional powers for the central government was close, and in some states ratification was effected only after a bitter struggle in the state convention itself.
On June 21, 1788, the constitution had been ratified by the minimum of nine states required under Article VII. Towards the end of July, and with eleven states then having ratified, the process of organizing the new government began. The Continental Congress, which still functioned at irregular intervals, passed a resolution on September 13, 1788, to put the new Constitution into operation with the eleven states that had then ratified it. The federal government began operations under the new form of government on March 4, 1789. However, the initial meeting of each chamber of Congress had to be adjourned due to lack of a quorum. George Washington was inaugurated as the nation's first president 8 weeks later, on April 30. The final two states, North Carolina and Rhode Island, both subsequently ratified the Constitution – November 21, 1789, and May 29, 1790, respectively.
|Enlightenment and Rule of law|
Two Treatises of Government
life, liberty and property
Several ideas in the Constitution were new. These were associated with the combination of consolidated government along with federal relationships with constituent states.
Both the influence of Edward Coke and William Blackstone were evident at the Convention. In his Institutes of the Lawes of England, Edward Coke interpreted Magna Carta protections and rights to apply not just to nobles, but to all British subjects. In writing the Virginia Charter of 1606, he enabled the King in Parliament to give those to be born in the colonies all rights and liberties as though they were born in England. William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England were the most influential books on law in the new republic.
British political philosopher John Locke following the Glorious Revolution (1688) was a major influence expanding on the contract theory of government advanced by Thomas Hobbes. Locke advanced the principle of consent of the governed in his Two Treatises of Government. Government's duty under a social contract among the sovereign people was to serve the people by protecting their rights. These basic rights were life, liberty and property.
Montesquieu's influence on the framers is evident in Madison's Federalist No. 47 and Hamilton's Federalist No. 78. Jefferson, Adams, and Mason were known to read Montesquieu. Supreme Court Justices, the ultimate interpreters of the Constitution, have cited to Montesquieu throughout the Court's history. (See, e.g., Green v. Biddle, 21 U.S. 1, 1, 36 (1823). United States v. Wood, 39 U.S. 430, 438 (1840). Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52, 116 (1926). Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, 433 U.S. 425, 442 (1977). Bank Markazi v. Peterson, 136 U.S. 1310, 1330 (2016). ) Montesquieu emphasized the need for balanced forces pushing against each other to prevent tyranny (reflecting the influence of Polybius's 2nd century BC treatise on the checks and balances of the Roman Republic). In his The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu argues that the separation of state powers should be by its service to the people's liberty: legislative, executive and judicial.
The constitution was a federal one, and was influenced by the study of other federations, both ancient and extant.
The United States Bill of Rights consists of 10 amendments added to the Constitution in 1791, as supporters of the Constitution had promised critics during the debates of 1788. The English Bill of Rights (1689) was an inspiration for the American Bill of Rights. Both require jury trials, contain a right to keep and bear arms, prohibit excessive bail and forbid "cruel and unusual punishments". Many liberties protected by state constitutions and the Virginia Declaration of Rights were incorporated into the Bill of Rights.
Neither the Convention which drafted the Constitution, nor the Congress which sent it to the thirteen states for ratification in the autumn of 1787, gave it a lead caption. To fill this void, the document was most often titled "A frame of Government" when it was printed for the convenience of ratifying conventions and the information of the public. This Frame of Government consisted of a preamble, seven articles and a signed closing endorsement.
The preamble to the Constitution serves as an introductory statement of the document's fundamental purposes and guiding principles. It neither assigns powers to the federal government, nor does it place specific limitations on government action. Rather, it sets out the origin, scope and purpose of the Constitution. Its origin and authority is in "We, the people of the United States". This echoes the Declaration of Independence. "One people" dissolved their connection with another, and assumed among the powers of the earth, a sovereign nation-state. The scope of the Constitution is twofold. First, "to form a more perfect Union" than had previously existed in the "perpetual Union" of the Articles of Confederation. Second, to "secure the blessings of liberty", which were to be enjoyed by not only the first generation, but for all who came after, "our posterity".
Article One describes the Congress, the legislative branch of the federal government. Section 1, reads, "All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives." The article establishes the manner of election and the qualifications of members of each body. Representatives must be at least 25 years old, be a citizen of the United States for seven years, and live in the state they represent. Senators must be at least 30 years old, be a citizen for nine years, and live in the state they represent.
Article I, Section 8 enumerates the powers delegated to the legislature. Financially, Congress has the power to tax, borrow, pay debt and provide for the common defense and the general welfare; to regulate commerce, bankruptcies, and coin money. To regulate internal affairs, it has the power to regulate and govern military forces and militias, suppress insurrections and repel invasions. It is to provide for naturalization, standards of weights and measures, post offices and roads, and patents; to directly govern the federal district and cessions of land by the states for forts and arsenals. Internationally, Congress has the power to define and punish piracies and offenses against the Law of Nations, to declare war and make rules of war. The final Necessary and Proper Clause, also known as the Elastic Clause, expressly confers incidental powers upon Congress without the Articles' requirement for express delegation for each and every power. Article I, Section 9 lists eight specific limits on congressional power.
The Supreme Court has sometimes broadly interpreted the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause in Article One to allow Congress to enact legislation that is neither expressly allowed by the enumerated powers nor expressly denied in the limitations on Congress. In McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), the Supreme Court read the Necessary and Proper Clause to permit the federal government to take action that would "enable [it] to perform the high duties assigned to it [by the Constitution] in the manner most beneficial to the people", even if that action is not itself within the enumerated powers. Chief Justice Marshall clarified: "Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the Constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, are Constitutional."
Article Two describes the office, qualifications, and duties of the President of the United States and the Vice President. The President is head of the executive branch of the federal government, as well as the nation's head of state and head of government.
Article two is modified by the 12th Amendment which tacitly acknowledges political parties, and the 25th Amendment relating to office succession. The president is to receive only one compensation from the federal government. The inaugural oath is specified to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.
The president is the Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces and state militias when they are mobilized. He or she makes treaties with the advice and consent of a two-thirds quorum of the Senate. To administer the federal government, the president commissions all the offices of the federal government as Congress directs; he or she may require the opinions of its principal officers and make "recess appointments" for vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate. The president is to see that the laws are faithfully executed, though he or she may grant reprieves and pardons except regarding Congressional impeachment of himself or other federal officers. The president reports to Congress on the State of the Union, and by the Recommendation Clause, recommends "necessary and expedient" national measures. The president may convene and adjourn Congress under special circumstances.
Section 4 provides for removal of the president and other federal officers. The president is removed on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
Article Three describes the court system (the judicial branch), including the Supreme Court. There shall be one court called the Supreme Court. The article describes the kinds of cases the court takes as original jurisdiction. Congress can create lower courts and an appeals process. Congress enacts law defining crimes and providing for punishment. Article Three also protects the right to trial by jury in all criminal cases, and defines the crime of treason.
Section 1 vests the judicial power of the United States in federal courts, and with it, the authority to interpret and apply the law to a particular case. Also included is the power to punish, sentence, and direct future action to resolve conflicts. The Constitution outlines the U.S. judicial system. In the Judiciary Act of 1789, Congress began to fill in details. Currently, Title 28 of the U.S. Code describes judicial powers and administration.
As of the First Congress, the Supreme Court justices rode circuit to sit as panels to hear appeals from the district courts.[b] In 1891, Congress enacted a new system. District courts would have original jurisdiction. Intermediate appellate courts (circuit courts) with exclusive jurisdiction heard regional appeals before consideration by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court holds discretionary jurisdiction, meaning that it does not have to hear every case that is brought to it.
To enforce judicial decisions, the Constitution grants federal courts both criminal contempt and civil contempt powers. The court's summary punishment for contempt immediately overrides all other punishments applicable to the subject party. Other implied powers include injunctive relief and the habeas corpus remedy. The Court may imprison for contumacy, bad-faith litigation, and failure to obey a writ of mandamus. Judicial power includes that granted by Acts of Congress for rules of law and punishment. Judicial power also extends to areas not covered by statute. Generally, federal courts cannot interrupt state court proceedings.
Clause 1 of Section 2 authorizes the federal courts to hear actual cases and controversies only. Their judicial power does not extend to cases which are hypothetical, or which are proscribed due to standing, mootness, or ripeness issues. Generally, a case or controversy requires the presence of adverse parties who have some interest genuinely at stake in the case.[c]
Clause 2 of Section 2 provides that the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction in cases involving ambassadors, ministers and consuls, for all cases respecting foreign nation-states, and also in those controversies which are subject to federal judicial power because at least one state is a party. Cases arising under the laws of the United States and its treaties come under the jurisdiction of federal courts. Cases under international maritime law and conflicting land grants of different states come under federal courts. Cases between U.S. citizens in different states, and cases between U.S. citizens and foreign states and their citizens, come under federal jurisdiction. The trials will be in the state where the crime was committed.
No part of the Constitution expressly authorizes judicial review, but the Framers did contemplate the idea. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Precedent has since established that the courts could exercise judicial review over the actions of Congress or the executive branch. Two conflicting federal laws are under "pendent" jurisdiction if one presents a strict constitutional issue. Federal court jurisdiction is rare when a state legislature enacts something as under federal jurisdiction.[d] To establish a federal system of national law, considerable effort goes into developing a spirit of comity between federal government and states. By the doctrine of 'Res judicata', federal courts give "full faith and credit" to State Courts.[e] The Supreme Court will decide Constitutional issues of state law only on a case by case basis, and only by strict Constitutional necessity, independent of state legislators motives, their policy outcomes or its national wisdom.[f]
Section 3 bars Congress from changing or modifying Federal law on treason by simple majority statute. This section also defines treason, as an overt act of making war or materially helping those at war with the United States. Accusations must be corroborated by at least two witnesses. Congress is a political body and political disagreements routinely encountered should never be considered as treason. This allows for nonviolent resistance to the government because opposition is not a life or death proposition. However, Congress does provide for other lesser subversive crimes such as conspiracy.[g]
Article Four outlines the relations among the states and between each state and the federal government. In addition, it provides for such matters as admitting new states and border changes between the states. For instance, it requires states to give "full faith and credit" to the public acts, records, and court proceedings of the other states. Congress is permitted to regulate the manner in which proof of such acts may be admitted. The "privileges and immunities" clause prohibits state governments from discriminating against citizens of other states in favor of resident citizens. For instance, in criminal sentencing, a state may not increase a penalty on the grounds that the convicted person is a non-resident.
It also establishes extradition between the states, as well as laying down a legal basis for freedom of movement and travel amongst the states. Today, this provision is sometimes taken for granted, but in the days of the Articles of Confederation, crossing state lines was often arduous and costly. The Territorial Clause gives Congress the power to make rules for disposing of federal property and governing non-state territories of the United States. Finally, the fourth section of Article Four requires the United States to guarantee to each state a republican form of government, and to protect them from invasion and violence.
Article Five outlines the process for amending the Constitution. Eight state constitutions in effect in 1787 included an amendment mechanism. Amendment making power rested with the legislature in three of the states and in the other five it was given to specially elected conventions. The Articles of Confederation provided that amendments were to be proposed by Congress and ratified by the unanimous vote of all thirteen state legislatures. This proved to be a major flaw in the Articles, as it created an insurmountable obstacle to constitutional reform. The amendment process crafted during the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention was, according to The Federalist No. 43, designed to establish a balance between pliancy and rigidity:
It guards equally against that extreme facility which would render the Constitution too mutable; and that extreme difficulty which might perpetuate its discovered faults. It moreover equally enables the General and the State Governments to originate the amendment of errors, as they may be pointed out by the experience on one side, or on the other.
There are two steps in the amendment process. Proposals to amend the Constitution must be properly adopted and ratified before they change the Constitution. First, there are two procedures for adopting the language of a proposed amendment, either by (a) Congress, by two-thirds majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, or (b) national convention (which shall take place whenever two-thirds of the state legislatures collectively call for one). Second, there are two procedures for ratifying the proposed amendment, which requires three-fourths of the states' (presently 38 of 50) approval: (a) consent of the state legislatures, or (b) consent of state ratifying conventions. The ratification method is chosen by Congress for each amendment. State ratifying conventions were used only once, for the Twenty-first Amendment.
Presently, the Archivist of the United States is charged with responsibility for administering the ratification process under the provisions of 1 U.S. Code § 106b. The Archivist submits the proposed amendment to the states for their consideration by sending a letter of notification to each Governor. Each Governor then formally submits the amendment to their state's legislature. When a state ratifies a proposed amendment, it sends the Archivist an original or certified copy of the state's action. Ratification documents are examined by the Office of the Federal Register for facial legal sufficiency and an authenticating signature.
Article Five ends by shielding certain clauses in the new frame of government from being amended. Article One, Section 9, Clauses 1 prevents Congress from passing any law that would restrict the importation of slaves into the United States prior to 1808, plus the fourth clause from that same section, which reiterates the Constitutional rule that direct taxes must be apportioned according to state populations. These clauses were explicitly shielded from Constitutional amendment prior to 1808. On January 1, 1808, the first day it was permitted to do so, Congress approved legislation prohibiting the importation of slaves into the country. On February 3, 1913, with ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment, Congress gained the authority to levy an income tax without apportioning it among the states or basing it on the United States Census. The third textually entrenched provision is Article One, Section 3, Clauses 1, which provides for equal representation of the states in the Senate. The shield protecting this clause from the amendment process is less absolute – "no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate" – but permanent.
Article Six establishes the Constitution, and all federal laws and treaties of the United States made according to it, to be the supreme law of the land, and that "the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the laws or constitutions of any state notwithstanding." It validates national debt created under the Articles of Confederation and requires that all federal and state legislators, officers, and judges take oaths or affirmations to support the Constitution. This means that the states' constitutions and laws should not conflict with the laws of the federal constitution and that in case of a conflict, state judges are legally bound to honor the federal laws and constitution over those of any state. Article Six also states "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
Article Seven describes the process for establishing the proposed new frame of government. Anticipating that the influence of many state politicians would be Antifederalist, delegates to the Philadelphia Convention provided for ratification of the Constitution by popularly elected ratifying conventions in each state. The convention method also made it possible that judges, ministers and others ineligible to serve in state legislatures, could be elected to a convention. Suspecting that Rhode Island, at least, might not ratify, delegates decided that the Constitution would go into effect as soon as nine states (two-thirds rounded up) ratified. Once ratified by this minimum number of states, it was anticipated that the proposed Constitution would become this Constitution between the nine or more that signed. It would not cover the four or fewer states that might not have signed.
The signing of the United States Constitution occurred on September 17, 1787, when 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention endorsed the constitution created during the convention. In addition to signatures, this closing endorsement, the Constitution's eschatocol, included a brief declaration that the delegates' work has been successfully completed and that those whose signatures appear on it subscribe to the final document. Included are, a statement pronouncing the document's adoption by the states present, a formulaic dating of its adoption, and the signatures of those endorsing it. Additionally, the convention's secretary, William Jackson, signed the document to authenticate the validity of the delegate signatures. He also made a few secretarial notes.
The language of the concluding endorsement, conceived by Gouverneur Morris and presented to the convention by Benjamin Franklin, was made intentionally ambiguous in hopes of winning over the votes of dissenting delegates. Advocates for the new frame of government, realizing the impending difficulty of obtaining the consent of the states needed to make it operational, were anxious to obtain the unanimous support of the delegations from each state. It was feared that many of the delegates would refuse to give their individual assent to the Constitution. Therefore, in order that the action of the Convention would appear to be unanimous, the formula, Done in convention by the unanimous consent of the states present ... was devised.
The document is dated: "the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord" 1787, and "of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth." This two-fold epoch dating serves to place the Constitution in the context of the religious traditions of Western civilization and, at the same time, links it to the regime principles proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. This dual reference can also be found in the Articles of Confederation and the Northwest Ordinance.
The closing endorsement serves an authentication function only. It neither assigns powers to the federal government nor does it provide specific limitations on government action. It does however, provide essential documentation of the Constitution's validity, a statement of "This is what was agreed to." It records who signed the Constitution, and when and where.
The Constitution has twenty-seven amendments. Structurally, the Constitution's original text and all prior amendments remain untouched. The precedent for this practice was set in 1789, when Congress considered and proposed the first several Constitutional amendments. Among these, Amendments 1–10 are collectively known as the Bill of Rights, and Amendments 13–15 are known as the Reconstruction Amendments. Excluding the Twenty-seventh Amendment, which was pending before the states for 202 years, 225 days, the longest pending amendment that was successfully ratified was the Twenty-second Amendment, which took 3 years, 343 days. The Twenty-sixth Amendment was ratified in the shortest time, 100 days. The average ratification time for the first twenty-six amendments was 1 year, 252 days, for all twenty-seven, 9 years, 48 days.
A proposed amendment becomes an operative part of the Constitution as soon as it is ratified by three-fourths of the States (currently 38 of the 50 States). There is no further step. The text requires no additional action by Congress or anyone else after ratification by the required number of states. Thus, when the Office of the Federal Register verifies that it has received the required number of authenticated ratification documents, it drafts a formal proclamation for the Archivist to certify that the amendment is valid and has become part of the nation's frame of government. This certification is published in the Federal Register and United States Statutes at Large and serves as official notice to Congress and to the nation that the ratification process has been successfully completed.
The First Amendment (1791) prohibits Congress from obstructing the exercise of certain individual freedoms: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and right to petition. Its Free Exercise Clause guarantees a person's right to hold whatever religious beliefs he or she wants, and to freely exercise that belief, and its Establishment Clause prevents the federal government from creating an official national church or favoring one set of religious beliefs over another. The amendment guarantees an individual's right to express and to be exposed to a wide range of opinions and views. It was intended to ensure a free exchange of ideas, even unpopular ones. It also guarantees an individual's right to physically gather or associate with others in groups for economic, political or religious purposes. Additionally, it guarantees an individual's right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The Second Amendment (1791) protects the right of individuals to keep and bear arms. Although the Supreme Court has ruled that this right applies to individuals, not merely to collective militias, it has also held that the government may regulate or place some limits on the manufacture, ownership and sale of firearms or other weapons. Requested by several states during the Constitutional ratification debates, the amendment reflected the lingering resentment over the widespread efforts of the British to confiscate the colonists' firearms at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Patrick Henry had rhetorically asked, shall we be stronger, "when we are totally disarmed, and when a British Guard shall be stationed in every house?"
The Third Amendment (1791) prohibits the federal government from forcing individuals to provide lodging to soldiers in their homes during peacetime without their consent. Requested by several states during the Constitutional ratification debates, the amendment reflected the lingering resentment over the Quartering Acts passed by the British Parliament during the Revolutionary War, which had allowed British soldiers to take over private homes for their own use.
The Fourth Amendment (1791) protects people against unreasonable searches and seizures of either self or property by government officials. A search can mean everything from a frisking by a police officer or to a demand for a blood test to a search of an individual's home or car. A seizure occurs when the government takes control of an individual or something in his or her possession. Items that are seized often are used as evidence when the individual is charged with a crime. It also imposes certain limitations on police investigating a crime and prevents the use of illegally obtained evidence at trial.
The Fifth Amendment (1791) establishes the requirement that a trial for a major crime may commence only after an indictment has been handed down by a grand jury; protects individuals from double jeopardy, being tried and put in danger of being punished more than once for the same criminal act; prohibits punishment without due process of law, thus protecting individuals from being imprisoned without fair procedures; and provides that an accused person may not be compelled to reveal to the police, prosecutor, judge, or jury any information that might incriminate or be used against him or her in a court of law. Additionally, the Fifth Amendment also prohibits government from taking private property for public use without "just compensation", the basis of eminent domain in the United States.
The Sixth Amendment (1791) provides several protections and rights to an individual accused of a crime. The accused has the right to a fair and speedy trial by a local and impartial jury. Likewise, a person has the right to a public trial. This right protects defendants from secret proceedings that might encourage abuse of the justice system, and serves to keep the public informed. This amendment also guarantees a right to legal counsel if accused of a crime, guarantees that the accused may require witnesses to attend the trial and testify in the presence of the accused, and guarantees the accused a right to know the charges against them. In 1966, the Supreme Court ruled that, with the Fifth Amendment, this amendment requires what has become known as the Miranda warning.
The Seventh Amendment (1791) extends the right to a jury trial to federal civil cases, and inhibits courts from overturning a jury's findings of fact. Although the Seventh Amendment itself says that it is limited to "suits at common law", meaning cases that triggered the right to a jury under English law, the amendment has been found to apply in lawsuits that are similar to the old common law cases. For example, the right to a jury trial applies to cases brought under federal statutes that prohibit race or gender discrimination in housing or employment. Importantly, this amendment guarantees the right to a jury trial only in federal court, not in state court.
The Eighth Amendment (1791) protects people from having bail or fines set at an amount so high that it would be impossible for all but the richest defendants to pay and also protects people from being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. Although this phrase originally was intended to outlaw certain gruesome methods of punishment, it has been broadened over the years to protect against punishments that are grossly disproportionate to or too harsh for the particular crime. This provision has also been used to challenge prison conditions such as extremely unsanitary cells, overcrowding, insufficient medical care and deliberate failure by officials to protect inmates from one another.
The Ninth Amendment (1791) declares that individuals have other fundamental rights, in addition to those stated in the Constitution. During the Constitutional ratification debates Anti-Federalists argued that a Bill of Rights should be added. The Federalists opposed it on grounds that a list would necessarily be incomplete but would be taken as explicit and exhaustive, thus enlarging the power of the federal government by implication. The Anti-Federalists persisted, and several state ratification conventions refused to ratify the Constitution without a more specific list of protections, so the First Congress added what became the Ninth Amendment as a compromise. Because the rights protected by the Ninth Amendment are not specified, they are referred to as "unenumerated". The Supreme Court has found that unenumerated rights include such important rights as the right to travel, the right to vote, the right to privacy, and the right to make important decisions about one's health care or body.
The Tenth Amendment (1791) was included in the Bill of Rights to further define the balance of power between the federal government and the states. The amendment states that the federal government has only those powers specifically granted by the Constitution. These powers include the power to declare war, to collect taxes, to regulate interstate business activities and others that are listed in the articles or in subsequent constitutional amendments. Any power not listed is, says the Tenth Amendment, left to the states or the people. While there is no specific list of what these "reserved powers" may be, the Supreme Court has ruled that laws affecting family relations, commerce within a state's own borders, and local law enforcement activities, are among those specifically reserved to the states or the people.
The Eleventh Amendment (1795) specifically prohibits federal courts from hearing cases in which a state is sued by an individual from another state or another country, thus extending to the states sovereign immunity protection from certain types of legal liability. Article Three, Section 2, Clause 1 has been affected by this amendment, which also overturned the Supreme Court's decision in Chisholm v. Georgia.
The Sixteenth Amendment (1913) removed existing Constitutional constraints that limited the power of Congress to lay and collect taxes on income. Specifically, the apportionment constraints delineated in Article 1, Section 9, Clause 4 have been removed by this amendment, which also overturned an 1895 Supreme Court decision, in Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co., that declared an unapportioned federal income tax on rents, dividends, and interest unconstitutional. This amendment has become the basis for all subsequent federal income tax legislation and has greatly expanded the scope of federal taxing and spending in the years since.
The Eighteenth Amendment (1919) prohibited the making, transporting, and selling of alcoholic beverages nationwide. It also authorized Congress to enact legislation enforcing this prohibition. Adopted at the urging of a national temperance movement, proponents believed that the use of alcohol was reckless and destructive and that prohibition would reduce crime and corruption, solve social problems, decrease the need for welfare and prisons, and improve the health of all Americans. During prohibition, it is estimated that alcohol consumption and alcohol related deaths declined dramatically. But prohibition had other, more negative consequences. The amendment drove the lucrative alcohol business underground, giving rise to a large and pervasive black market. In addition, prohibition encouraged disrespect for the law and strengthened organized crime. Prohibition came to an end in 1933, when this amendment was repealed.
The Twenty-first Amendment (1933) repealed the Eighteenth Amendment and returned the regulation of alcohol to the states. Each state sets its own rules for the sale and importation of alcohol, including the drinking age. Because a federal law provides federal funds to states that prohibit the sale of alcohol to minors under the age of twenty-one, all fifty states have set their drinking age there. Rules about how alcohol is sold vary greatly from state to state.
The Thirteenth Amendment (1865) abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime, and authorized Congress to enforce abolition. Though millions of slaves had been declared free by the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, their post Civil War status was unclear, as was the status of other millions. Congress intended the Thirteenth Amendment to be a proclamation of freedom for all slaves throughout the nation and to take the question of emancipation away from politics. This amendment rendered inoperative or moot several of the original parts of the constitution.
The Fourteenth Amendment (1868) granted United States citizenship to former slaves and to all persons "subject to U.S. jurisdiction". It also contained three new limits on state power: a state shall not violate a citizen's privileges or immunities; shall not deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; and must guarantee all persons equal protection of the laws. These limitations dramatically expanded the protections of the Constitution. This amendment, according to the Supreme Court's Doctrine of Incorporation, makes most provisions of the Bill of Rights applicable to state and local governments as well. It superseded the mode of apportionment of representatives delineated in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3, and also overturned the Supreme Court's decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford.
The Fifteenth Amendment (1870) prohibits the use of race, color, or previous condition of servitude in determining which citizens may vote. The last of three post Civil War Reconstruction Amendments, it sought to abolish one of the key vestiges of slavery and to advance the civil rights and liberties of former slaves.
The Nineteenth Amendment (1920) prohibits the government from denying women the right to vote on the same terms as men. Prior to the amendment's adoption, only a few states permitted women to vote and to hold office.
The Twenty-third Amendment (1961) extends the right to vote in presidential elections to citizens residing in the District of Columbia by granting the District electors in the Electoral College, as if it were a state. When first established as the nation's capital in 1800, the District of Columbia's five thousand residents had neither a local government, nor the right to vote in federal elections. By 1960 the population of the District had grown to over 760,000 people.
The Twenty-fourth Amendment (1964) prohibits a poll tax for voting. Although passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments helped remove many of the discriminatory laws left over from slavery, they did not eliminate all forms of discrimination. Along with literacy tests and durational residency requirements, poll taxes were used to keep low-income (primarily African American) citizens from participating in elections. The Supreme Court has since struck down these discriminatory measures, opening democratic participation to all.
The Twenty-sixth Amendment (1971) prohibits the government from denying the right of United States citizens, eighteen years of age or older, to vote on account of age. The drive to lower the voting age was driven in large part by the broader student activism movement protesting the Vietnam War. It gained strength following the Supreme Court's decision in Oregon v. Mitchell.
The Twelfth Amendment (1804) modifies the way the Electoral College chooses the President and Vice President. It stipulates that each elector must cast a distinct vote for President and Vice President, instead of two votes for President. It also suggests that the President and Vice President should not be from the same state. Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 is superseded by this amendment, which also extends the eligibility requirements to become President to the Vice President.
The Seventeenth Amendment (1913) modifies the way senators are elected. It stipulates that senators are to be elected by direct popular vote. The amendment supersedes Article 1, Section 2, Clauses 1 and 2, under which the two senators from each state were elected by the state legislature. It also allows state legislatures to permit their governors to make temporary appointments until a special election can be held.
The Twentieth Amendment (1933) changes the date on which a new President, Vice President and Congress take office, thus shortening the time between Election Day and the beginning of Presidential, Vice Presidential and Congressional terms. Originally, the Constitution provided that the annual meeting was to be on the first Monday in December unless otherwise provided by law. This meant that, when a new Congress was elected in November, it did not come into office until the following March, with a "lame duck" Congress convening in the interim. By moving the beginning of the president's new term from March 4 to January 20 (and in the case of Congress, to January 3), proponents hoped to put an end to lame duck sessions, while allowing for a speedier transition for the new administration and legislators.
The Twenty-second Amendment (1951) limits an elected president to two terms in office, a total of eight years. However, under some circumstances it is possible for an individual to serve more than eight years. Although nothing in the original frame of government limited how many presidential terms one could serve, the nation's first president, George Washington, declined to run for a third term, suggesting that two terms of four years were enough for any president. This precedent remained an unwritten rule of the presidency until broken by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was elected to a third term as president 1940 and in 1944 to a fourth.
The Twenty-fifth Amendment (1967) clarifies what happens upon the death, removal, or resignation of the President or Vice President and how the Presidency is temporarily filled if the President becomes disabled and cannot fulfill the responsibilities of the office. It supersedes the ambiguous succession rule established in Article II, Section 1, Clause 6. A concrete plan of succession has been needed on multiple occasions since 1789. However, for nearly 20% of U.S. history, there has been no vice president in office who can assume the presidency.
The Twenty-seventh Amendment (1992) prevents members of Congress from granting themselves pay raises during the current session. Rather, any raises that are adopted must take effect during the next session of Congress. Its proponents believed that Federal legislators would be more likely to be cautious about increasing congressional pay if they have no personal stake in the vote. Article One, section 6, Clause 1 has been affected by this amendment, which remained pending for over two centuries as it contained no time limit for ratification.
Collectively, members of the House and Senate typically propose around 200 amendments during each two-year term of Congress. Most however, never get out of the Congressional committees in which they were proposed, and only a fraction of those that do receive enough support to win Congressional approval to actually go through the constitutional ratification process.
Six amendments approved by Congress and proposed to the states for consideration have not been ratified by the required number of states to become part of the Constitution. Four of these are technically still pending, as Congress did not set a time limit (see also Coleman v. Miller) for their ratification. The other two are no longer pending, as both had a time limit attached and in both cases the time period set for their ratification expired.
The way the Constitution is understood is influenced by court decisions, especially those of the Supreme Court. These decisions are referred to as precedents. Judicial review is the power of the Court to examine federal legislation, federal executive, and all state branches of government, to decide their constitutionality, and to strike them down if found unconstitutional.
Judicial review includes the power of the Court to explain the meaning of the Constitution as it applies to particular cases. Over the years, Court decisions on issues ranging from governmental regulation of radio and television to the rights of the accused in criminal cases have changed the way many constitutional clauses are interpreted, without amendment to the actual text of the Constitution.
Legislation passed to implement the Constitution, or to adapt those implementations to changing conditions, broadens and, in subtle ways, changes the meanings given to the words of the Constitution. Up to a point, the rules and regulations of the many federal executive agencies have a similar effect. If an action of Congress or the agencies is challenged, however, it is the court system that ultimately decides whether these actions are permissible under the Constitution.
The Supreme Court has indicated that once the Constitution has been extended to an area (by Congress or the Courts), its coverage is irrevocable. To hold that the political branches may switch the Constitution on or off at will would lead to a regime in which they, not this Court, say "what the law is".[h]
Courts established by the Constitution can regulate government under the Constitution, the supreme law of the land. First, they have jurisdiction over actions by an officer of government and state law. Second, federal courts may rule on whether coordinate branches of national government conform to the Constitution. Until the twentieth century, the Supreme Court of the United States may have been the only high tribunal in the world to use a court for constitutional interpretation of fundamental law, others generally depending on their national legislature.
The basic theory of American Judicial review is summarized by constitutional legal scholars and historians as follows: the written Constitution is fundamental law. It can change only by extraordinary legislative process of national proposal, then state ratification. The powers of all departments are limited to enumerated grants found in the Constitution. Courts are expected (a) to enforce provisions of the Constitution as the supreme law of the land, and (b) to refuse to enforce anything in conflict with it.
In Convention. As to judicial review and the Congress, the first proposals by Madison (Va) and Wilson (Pa) called for a supreme court veto over national legislation. In this it resembled the system in New York, where the Constitution of 1777 called for a "Council of Revision" by the Governor and Justices of the state supreme court. The Council would review and in a way, veto any passed legislation violating the spirit of the Constitution before it went into effect. The nationalist's proposal in Convention was defeated three times, and replaced by a presidential veto with Congressional over-ride. Judicial review relies on the jurisdictional authority in Article III, and the Supremacy Clause.
The justification for judicial review is to be explicitly found in the open ratifications held in the states and reported in their newspapers. John Marshall in Virginia, James Wilson in Pennsylvania and Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut all argued for Supreme Court judicial review of acts of state legislature. In Federalist No. 78, Alexander Hamilton advocated the doctrine of a written document held as a superior enactment of the people. "A limited constitution can be preserved in practice no other way" than through courts which can declare void any legislation contrary to the Constitution. The preservation of the people's authority over legislatures rests "particularly with judges".[i]
The Supreme Court was initially made up of jurists who had been intimately connected with the framing of the Constitution and the establishment of its government as law. John Jay (New York), a co-author of The Federalist Papers, served as Chief Justice for the first six years. The second Chief Justice for a term of four years, was Oliver Ellsworth (Connecticut), a delegate in the Constitutional Convention, as was John Rutledge (South Carolina), Washington's recess appointment as Chief Justice who served in 1795. John Marshall (Virginia), the fourth Chief Justice, had served in the Virginia Ratification Convention in 1788. His service on the Court would extend 34 years over some of the most important rulings to help establish the nation the Constitution had begun. In the first years of the Supreme Court, members of the Constitutional Convention who would serve included James Wilson (Pennsylvania) for ten years, John Blair Jr. (Virginia) for five, and John Rutledge (South Carolina) for one year as Justice, then Chief Justice in 1795.
When John Marshall followed Oliver Ellsworth as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1801, the federal judiciary had been established by the Judiciary Act, but there were few cases, and less prestige. "The fate of judicial review was in the hands of the Supreme Court itself." Review of state legislation and appeals from state supreme courts was understood. But the Court's life, jurisdiction over state legislation was limited. The Marshall Court's landmark Barron v. Baltimore held that the Bill of Rights restricted only the federal government, and not the states.
In the landmark Marbury v. Madison case, the Supreme Court asserted its authority of judicial review over Acts of Congress. Its findings were that Marbury and the others had a right to their commissions as judges in the District of Columbia. Marshall, writing the opinion for the majority, announced his discovered conflict between Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 and Article III.[j][k] In this case, both the Constitution and the statutory law applied to the particulars at the same time. "The very essence of judicial duty" according to Marshall was to determine which of the two conflicting rules should govern. The Constitution enumerates powers of the judiciary to extend to cases arising "under the Constitution". Further, justices take a Constitutional oath to uphold it as "Supreme law of the land". Therefore, since the United States government as created by the Constitution is a limited government, the Federal courts were required to choose the Constitution over Congressional law if there were deemed to be a conflict.
"This argument has been ratified by time and by practice..."[l][m] The Supreme Court did not declare another Act of Congress unconstitutional until the controversial Dred Scott decision in 1857, held after the voided Missouri Compromise statute had already been repealed. In the eighty years following the Civil War to World War II, the Court voided Congressional statutes in 77 cases, on average almost one a year.
Something of a crisis arose when, in 1935 and 1936, the Supreme Court handed down twelve decisions voiding Acts of Congress relating to the New Deal. President Franklin D. Roosevelt then responded with his abortive "court packing plan". Other proposals have suggested a Court super-majority to overturn Congressional legislation, or a Constitutional Amendment to require that the Justices retire at a specified age by law. To date, the Supreme Court's power of judicial review has persisted.
The power of judicial review could not have been preserved long in a democracy unless it had been "wielded with a reasonable measure of judicial restraint, and with some attention, as Mr. Dooley said, to the election returns." Indeed, the Supreme Court has developed a system of doctrine and practice that self-limits its power of judicial review.
The Court controls almost all of its business by choosing what cases to consider, writs of certiorari. In this way, it can avoid opinions on embarrassing or difficult cases. The Supreme Court limits itself by defining for itself what is a "justiciable question." First, the Court is fairly consistent in refusing to make any "advisory opinions" in advance of actual cases.[n] Second, "friendly suits" between those of the same legal interest are not considered. Third, the Court requires a "personal interest", not one generally held, and a legally protected right must be immediately threatened by government action. Cases are not taken up if the litigant has no standing to sue. Simply having the money to sue and being injured by government action are not enough.
These three procedural ways of dismissing cases have led critics to charge that the Supreme Court delays decisions by unduly insisting on technicalities in their "standards of litigability". They say cases are left unconsidered which are in the public interest, with genuine controversy, and resulting from good faith action. "The Supreme Court is not only a court of law but a court of justice."
The Supreme Court balances several pressures to maintain its roles in national government. It seeks to be a co-equal branch of government, but its decrees must be enforceable. The Court seeks to minimize situations where it asserts itself superior to either President or Congress, but federal officers must be held accountable. The Supreme Court assumes power to declare acts of Congress as unconstitutional but it self-limits its passing on constitutional questions. But the Court's guidance on basic problems of life and governance in a democracy is most effective when American political life reinforce its rulings.
Justice Brandeis summarized four general guidelines that the Supreme Court uses to avoid constitutional decisions relating to Congress:[o] The Court will not anticipate a question of constitutional law nor decide open questions unless a case decision requires it. If it does, a rule of constitutional law is formulated only as the precise facts in the case require. The Court will choose statutes or general law for the basis of its decision if it can without constitutional grounds. If it does, the Court will choose a constitutional construction of an Act of Congress, even if its constitutionality is seriously in doubt. 
Likewise with the Executive Department, Edwin Corwin observed that the Court does sometimes rebuff presidential pretensions, but it more often tries to rationalize them. Against Congress, an Act is merely "disallowed". In the executive case, exercising judicial review produces "some change in the external world" beyond the ordinary judicial sphere. The "political question" doctrine especially applies to questions which present a difficult enforcement issue. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes addressed the Court's limitation when political process allowed future policy change, but a judicial ruling would "attribute finality". Political questions lack "satisfactory criteria for a judicial determination".
John Marshall recognized that the president holds "important political powers" which as Executive privilege allows great discretion. This doctrine was applied in Court rulings on President Grant's duty to enforce the law during Reconstruction. It extends to the sphere of foreign affairs. Justice Robert Jackson explained, Foreign affairs are inherently political, "wholly confided by our Constitution to the political departments of the government ... [and] not subject to judicial intrusion or inquiry."
Critics of the Court object in two principal ways to self-restraint in judicial review, deferring as it does as a matter of doctrine to Acts of Congress and Presidential actions.
Supreme Courts under the leadership of subsequent Chief Justices have also used judicial review to interpret the Constitution among individuals, states and federal branches. Notable contributions were made by the Chase Court, the Taft Court, the Warren Court, and the Rehnquist Court.
Salmon P. Chase was a Lincoln appointee, serving as Chief Justice from 1864 to 1873. His career encompassed service as a U.S. Senator and Governor of Ohio. He coined the slogan, "Free soil, free Labor, free men." One of Lincoln's "team of rivals", he was appointed Secretary of Treasury during the Civil War, issuing "greenbacks". To appease radical Republicans, Lincoln appointed him to replace Chief Justice Roger B. Taney of Dred Scott case fame.
In one of his first official acts, Chase admitted John Rock, the first African-American to practice before the Supreme Court. The "Chase Court" is famous for Texas v. White, which asserted a permanent Union of indestructible states. Veazie Bank v. Fenno upheld the Civil War tax on state banknotes. Hepburn v. Griswold found parts of the Legal Tender Acts unconstitutional, though it was reversed under a late Supreme Court majority.
As Chief Justice, he advocated the Judiciary Act of 1925 that brought the Federal District Courts under the administrative jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Taft successfully sought the expansion of Court jurisdiction over non- states such as District of Columbia and Territories of Alaska and Hawaii.
In 1925, the Taft Court issued a ruling overturning a Marshall Court ruling on the Bill of Rights. In Gitlow v. New York, the Court established the doctrine of "incorporation which applied the Bill of Rights to the states. Important cases included the Board of Trade of City of Chicago v. Olsen that upheld Congressional regulation of commerce. Olmstead v. United States allowed exclusion of evidence obtained without a warrant based on application of the 14th Amendment proscription against unreasonable searches. Wisconsin v. Illinois ruled the equitable power of the United States can impose positive action on a state to prevent its inaction from damaging another state.
Earl Warren was an Eisenhower nominee, Chief Justice from 1953 to 1969. Warren's Republican career in the law reached from County Prosecutor, California state attorney general, and three consecutive terms as Governor. His programs stressed progressive efficiency, expanding state education, re-integrating returning veterans, infrastructure and highway construction.
In 1954, the Warren Court overturned a landmark Fuller Court ruling on the Fourteenth Amendment interpreting racial segregation as permissible in government and commerce providing "separate but equal" services. Warren built a coalition of Justices after 1962 that developed the idea of natural rights as guaranteed in the Constitution. Brown v. Board of Education banned segregation in public schools. Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims established Court ordered "one-man-one-vote". Bill of Rights Amendments were incorporated into the states. Due process was expanded in Gideon v. Wainwright and Miranda v. Arizona. First Amendment rights were addressed in Griswold v. Connecticut concerning privacy, and Engel v. Vitale relative to free speech.
William Rehnquist was a Reagan appointment to Chief Justice, serving from 1986 to 2005. While he would concur with overthrowing a state supreme court's decision, as in Bush v. Gore, he built a coalition of Justices after 1994 that developed the idea of federalism as provided for in the Tenth Amendment. In the hands of the Supreme Court, the Constitution and its Amendments were to restrain Congress, as in City of Boerne v. Flores.
Nevertheless, the Rehnquist Court was noted in the contemporary "culture wars" for overturning state laws relating to privacy prohibiting late-term abortions in Stenberg v. Carhart, prohibiting sodomy in Lawrence v. Texas, or ruling so as to protect free speech in Texas v. Johnson or affirmative action in Grutter v. Bollinger.
There is a viewpoint that some Americans have come to see the documents of the Constitution, along with the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, as being a cornerstone of a type of civil religion. This is suggested by the prominent display of the Constitution, along with the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, in massive, bronze-framed, bulletproof, moisture-controlled glass containers vacuum-sealed in a rotunda by day and in multi-ton bomb-proof vaults by night at the National Archives Building.
The idea of displaying the documents struck one academic critic looking from the point of view of the 1776 or 1789 America as "idolatrous, and also curiously at odds with the values of the Revolution". By 1816, Jefferson wrote that "[s]ome men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the Ark of the Covenant, too sacred to be touched". But he saw imperfections and imagined that there could potentially be others, believing as he did that "institutions must advance also".
The United States Constitution has been a notable model for governance around the world. Its international influence is found in similarities of phrasing and borrowed passages in other constitutions, as well as in the principles of the rule of law, separation of powers and recognition of individual rights. The American experience of fundamental law with amendments and judicial review has motivated constitutionalists at times when they were considering the possibilities for their nation's future. It informed Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War,[t] his contemporary and ally Benito Juárez of Mexico,[u] and the second generation of 19th-century constitutional nationalists, José Rizal of the Philippines[v] and Sun Yat-sen of China.[w] Since the latter half of the 20th century, the influence of the United States Constitution may be waning as other countries have revised their constitutions with new influences.
The United States Constitution has faced various criticisms since its inception in 1787.
The Constitution did not originally define who was eligible to vote, allowing each state to determine who was eligible. In the early history of the U.S., most states allowed only white male adult property owners to vote. Until the Reconstruction Amendments were adopted between 1865 and 1870, the five years immediately following the Civil War, the Constitution did not abolish slavery, nor give citizenship and voting rights to former slaves. These amendments did not include a specific prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sex; it took another amendment – the Nineteenth, ratified in 1920 – for the Constitution to prohibit any United States citizen from being denied the right to vote on the basis of sex.
Earlier written constitutions of independent states exist but were not adopted by bodies elected by the people, such as the Swedish Constitution of 1772, adopted by the king, the Constitution of San Marino of 1600 which is the oldest surviving constitution in the world, or the Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk, the first establishing separation of powers.
|url=(help). U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 25 n.2. ISBN 9780160632686.
Article One of the United States Constitution establishes the legislative branch of the federal government, the United States Congress. Under Article One, Congress is a bicameral legislature consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Article One grants Congress various enumerated powers and the ability to pass laws "necessary and proper" to carry out those powers. Article One also establishes the procedures for passing a bill and places various limits on the powers of Congress and the states.
Article One's Vesting Clause grants all federal legislative power to Congress and establishes that Congress consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate. In combination with the Vesting Clauses of the Article Two and Article Three, the Vesting Clause of Article One establishes the separation of powers among the three branches of the federal government. Section 2 of Article One addresses the House of Representatives, establishing that members of the House are elected every two years, with congressional seats apportioned to the states on the basis of population. Section 2 includes various rules for the House of Representatives, including a provision stating that individuals qualified to vote in elections for the largest chamber of their state's legislature have the right to vote in elections for the House of Representatives. Section 3 addresses the Senate, establishing that the Senate consists of two senators from each state, with each senator serving a six-year term. Section 3 originally required that the state legislatures elect the members of the Senate, but the Seventeenth Amendment, ratified in 1913, provides for the direct election of senators. Section 3 lays out various other rules for the Senate, including a provision that establishes the Vice President of the United States as the president of the Senate.
Section 4 of Article One grants the states the power to regulate the congressional election process, but establishes that Congress can alter those regulations or make its own regulations. Section 4 also requires Congress to assemble at least once per year. Section 5 lays out various rules for both houses of Congress, and grants the House of Representatives and the Senate the power to judge their own elections, determine the qualifications of their own members, and punish or expel their own members. Section 6 establishes the compensation, privileges, and restrictions of those holding congressional office. Section 7 lays out the procedures for passing a bill, requiring both houses of Congress to pass a bill for it to become law, subject to the veto power of the President of the United States. Under Section 7, the president can veto a bill, but Congress can override the president's veto with a two-thirds vote of both chambers.
Section 8 lays out the powers of Congress. It includes several enumerated powers, including the power to lay and collect taxes and tariffs for the "general welfare" of the United States, the power to borrow money, the power to regulate interstate and international commerce, the power to set naturalization laws, the power to coin and regulate money, the power to establish federal courts inferior to the Supreme Court, the power to raise and support military forces, and the power to declare war. Section 8 also provides Congress the power to establish a federal district to serve as the national capital, and gives Congress the exclusive power to administer that district. In addition to various enumerated powers, Section 8 grants Congress the power to make laws necessary and proper to carry out its enumerated powers and other powers vested in it. Section 9 places various limits on the power of Congress, banning bills of attainder and other practices. Section 10 places limits on the states, prohibiting them from entering into alliances with foreign powers, impairing contracts, taxing imports or exports above the minimum level necessary for inspection, keeping armies, or engaging in war without the consent of Congress.Article Three of the United States Constitution
Article Three of the United States Constitution establishes the judicial branch of the federal government. Under Article Three, the judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court of the United States, as well as lower courts created by Congress. Article Three empowers the courts to handle cases or controversies arising under federal law, as well as other enumerated areas. Article Three also defines treason.
Section 1 of Article Three vests the judicial power of the United States in the Supreme Court, as well as inferior courts established by Congress. Along with the Vesting Clauses of Article One and Article Two, Article Three's Vesting Clause establishes the separation of powers between the three branches of government. Section 1 authorizes the creation of inferior courts, but does not require it; the first inferior federal courts were established shortly after the ratification of the Constitution with the Judiciary Act of 1789. Section 1 also establishes that federal judges do not face term limits, and that an individual judge's salary may not be decreased. Article Three does not set the size of the Supreme Court or establish specific positions on the court, but Article One establishes the position of chief justice.
Section 2 of Article Three delineates federal judicial power. The Case or Controversy Clause restricts the judiciary's power to actual cases and controversies, meaning that federal judicial power does not extend to cases which are hypothetical, or which are proscribed due to standing, mootness, or ripeness issues. Section 2 states that federal judiciary's power extends to cases arising under the Constitution, federal laws, federal treaties, controversies involving multiple states or foreign powers, and other enumerated areas. Section 2 gives the Supreme Court original jurisdiction when ambassadors, public officials, or the states are a party in the case, leaving the Supreme Court with appellate jurisdiction in all other areas to which the federal judiciary's jurisdiction extends. Section 2 also gives Congress the power to strip the Supreme Court of appellate jurisdiction, and establishes that all federal crimes must be tried before a jury. Section 2 does not expressly grant the federal judiciary the power of judicial review, but the courts have exercised this power since the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison.
Section 3 of Article Three defines treason and empowers Congress to punish treason. Section 3 requires that at least two witnesses testify to the treasonous act, or that the individual accused of treason confesses. It also limits the ways in which Congress can punish those convicted of treason.Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Eighteenth Amendment (Amendment XVIII) of the United States Constitution established the prohibition of "intoxicating liquors" in the United States. The amendment was proposed by Congress on December 18, 1917, and was ratified by the requisite number of states on January 16, 1919. The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment on December 5, 1933.
The Eighteenth Amendment was the product of decades of efforts by the temperance movement, which held that a ban on the sale of alcohol would ameliorate poverty and other societal issues. The Eighteenth Amendment declared the production, transport, and sale of intoxicating liquors illegal, though it did not outlaw the actual consumption of alcohol. Shortly after the amendment was ratified, Congress passed the Volstead Act to provide for the federal enforcement of Prohibition. The Volstead Act declared that liquor, wine, and beer all qualified as intoxicating liquors and were therefore prohibited. Under the terms of the Eighteenth Amendment, Prohibition began on January 17, 1920, one year after the amendment was ratified.
Although the Eighteenth Amendment led to a decline in alcohol consumption in the United States, nationwide enforcement of Prohibition proved difficult, particularly in cities. Organized crime and other groups engaged in large-scale bootlegging, and speakeasies became popular in many areas. Public sentiment began to turn against Prohibition during the 1920s, and 1932 Democratic presidential nominee Franklin D. Roosevelt called for the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment in his platform. The Twenty-first Amendment repealed the Eighteenth Amendment in 1933, making the Eighteenth Amendment the only amendment to the U.S. Constitution ever to be repealed in its entirety.Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Eighth Amendment (Amendment VIII) of the United States Constitution prohibits the federal, state, and local governments of the United States, or any other government, or any corporation, private enterprise, group, or individual, from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishments, in any part of the US, on US property (i.e. a US embassy), or against any US citizen, or any resident of the US. This amendment was adopted on December 15, 1791, along with the rest of the United States Bill of Rights. The phrases in this amendment originated in the English Bill of Rights of 1689.
The prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments has led courts to hold that the Constitution totally prohibits certain kinds of punishment, such as drawing and quartering. Under the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause, the Supreme Court has struck down the application of capital punishment in some instances, but capital punishment is still permitted in some cases where the defendant is convicted of murder.
The Supreme Court has held that the Excessive Fines Clause prohibits fines that are "so grossly excessive as to amount to a deprivation of property without due process of law." The Court struck down a fine as excessive for the first time in United States v. Bajakajian (1998). Under the Excessive Bail Clause, the Supreme Court has held that the federal government cannot set bail at "a figure higher than is reasonably calculated" to ensure the defendant's appearance at trial.
The Supreme Court has ruled that the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause applies to the states as well as to the federal government. On February 20, 2019, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Timbs v. Indiana that the Excessive Fines Clause also applies to the states.Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fifteenth Amendment (Amendment XV) to the United States Constitution prohibits the federal government and each state from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude". It was ratified on February 3, 1870, as the third and last of the Reconstruction Amendments.
In the final years of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction Era that followed, Congress repeatedly debated the rights of the millions of former black slaves. By 1869, amendments had been passed to abolish slavery and provide citizenship and equal protection under the laws, but the election of Ulysses S. Grant to the presidency in 1868 convinced a majority of Republicans that protecting the franchise of black male voters was important for the party's future. On February 26, 1869, after rejecting more sweeping versions of a suffrage amendment, Congress proposed a compromise amendment banning franchise restrictions on the basis of race, color, or previous servitude. After surviving a difficult ratification fight, the amendment was certified as duly ratified and part of the Constitution on March 30, 1870.
United States Supreme Court decisions in the late nineteenth century interpreted the amendment narrowly. From 1890 to 1910, southern states adopted new state constitutions and enacted laws that raised barriers to voter registration. This resulted in most black voters and many poor white ones being disenfranchised by poll taxes and discriminatory literacy tests, among other barriers to voting, from which white male voters were exempted by grandfather clauses. A system of white primaries and violent intimidation by white groups also suppressed black participation.
In the twentieth century, the Court began to interpret the amendment more broadly, striking down grandfather clauses in Guinn v. United States (1915) and dismantling the white primary system in the "Texas primary cases" (1927–1953). Along with later measures such as the Twenty-fourth Amendment, which forbade poll taxes in federal elections, and Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections (1966), which forbade poll taxes in state elections, these decisions significantly increased black participation in the American political system. To enforce the amendment, Congress enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which provided federal oversight of elections in discriminatory jurisdictions, banned literacy tests and similar discriminatory devices, and created legal remedies for people affected by voting discrimination.
The amendment created a split within the women's suffrage movement over the amendment not prohibiting denying the women the right to vote on account of sex.Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fifth Amendment (Amendment V) to the United States Constitution addresses criminal procedure and other aspects of the Constitution. It was ratified in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment applies to every level of the government, including the federal, state, and local levels, as well as any corporation, private enterprise, group, or individual, or any foreign government in regards to a US citizen or resident of the US. The Supreme Court furthered the protections of this amendment through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
One provision of the Fifth Amendment requires that felonies be tried only upon indictment by a grand jury. Another provision, the Double Jeopardy Clause, provides the right of defendants to be tried only once in federal court for the same offense. The self-incrimination clause provides various protections against self-incrimination, including the right of an individual to not serve as a witness in a criminal case in which they are the defendant. "Pleading the Fifth" is a colloquial term often used to invoke the self-incrimination clause when witnesses decline to answer questions where the answers might incriminate them. In the 1966 case of Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court held that the self-incrimination clause requires the police to issue a Miranda warning to criminal suspects interrogated while under police custody. The Fifth Amendment also contains the Takings Clause, which allows the federal government to take private property for public use if the government provides "just compensation."
Like the Fourteenth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment includes a due process clause stating that no person shall "be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." The Fifth Amendment's due process clause applies to the federal government, while the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause applies to state governments. The Supreme Court has interpreted the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause as providing two main protections: procedural due process, which requires government officials to follow fair procedures before depriving a person of life, liberty, or property, and substantive due process, which protects certain fundamental rights from government interference. The Supreme Court has also held that the Due Process Clause contains a prohibition against vague laws and an implied equal protection requirement similar to the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.First Amendment to the United States Constitution
The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prevents the government from making laws which respect an establishment of religion, prohibit the free exercise of religion, or abridge the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, or the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights was originally proposed to assuage Anti-Federalist opposition to Constitutional ratification. Initially, the First Amendment applied only to laws enacted by the Congress, and many of its provisions were interpreted more narrowly than they are today. Beginning with Gitlow v. New York (1925), the Supreme Court applied the First Amendment to states—a process known as incorporation—through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the Court drew on Thomas Jefferson's correspondence to call for "a wall of separation between church and State", though the precise boundary of this separation remains in dispute. Speech rights were expanded significantly in a series of 20th and 21st-century court decisions which protected various forms of political speech, anonymous speech, campaign financing, pornography, and school speech; these rulings also defined a series of exceptions to First Amendment protections. The Supreme Court overturned English common law precedent to increase the burden of proof for defamation and libel suits, most notably in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964). Commercial speech, however, is less protected by the First Amendment than political speech, and is therefore subject to greater regulation.
The Free Press Clause protects publication of information and opinions, and applies to a wide variety of media. In Near v. Minnesota (1931) and New York Times v. United States (1971), the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protected against prior restraint—pre-publication censorship—in almost all cases. The Petition Clause protects the right to petition all branches and agencies of government for action. In addition to the right of assembly guaranteed by this clause, the Court has also ruled that the amendment implicitly protects freedom of association.Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fourteenth Amendment (Amendment XIV) to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments. Arguably one of the most consequential amendments to this day, the amendment addresses citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws and was proposed in response to issues related to former slaves following the American Civil War. The amendment was bitterly contested, particularly by the states of the defeated Confederacy, which were forced to ratify it in order to regain representation in Congress. The amendment, particularly its first section, is one of the most litigated parts of the Constitution, forming the basis for landmark decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954) regarding racial segregation, Roe v. Wade (1973) regarding abortion, Bush v. Gore (2000) regarding the 2000 presidential election, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) regarding same-sex marriage. The amendment limits the actions of all state and local officials, including those acting on behalf of such an official.
The amendment's first section includes several clauses: the Citizenship Clause, Privileges or Immunities Clause, Due Process Clause, and Equal Protection Clause. The Citizenship Clause provides a broad definition of citizenship, nullifying the Supreme Court's decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), which had held that Americans descended from African slaves could not be citizens of the United States. Since the Slaughter-House Cases (1873), the Privileges or Immunities Clause has been interpreted to do very little.
The Due Process Clause prohibits state and local governments from depriving persons of life, liberty, or property without a fair procedure. The Supreme Court has ruled this clause makes most of the Bill of Rights as applicable to the states as it is to the federal government, as well as to recognize substantive and procedural requirements that state laws must satisfy. The Equal Protection Clause requires each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people, including all non-citizens, within its jurisdiction. This clause has been the basis for many decisions rejecting irrational or unnecessary discrimination against people belonging to various groups.
The second, third, and fourth sections of the amendment are seldom litigated. However, the second section's reference to "rebellion, or other crime" has been invoked as a constitutional ground for felony disenfranchisement. The fourth section was held, in Perry v. United States (1935), to prohibit a current Congress from abrogating a contract of debt incurred by a prior Congress. The fifth section gives Congress the power to enforce the amendment's provisions by "appropriate legislation"; however, under City of Boerne v. Flores (1997), this power may not be used to contradict a Supreme Court decision interpreting the amendment.Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Fourth Amendment (Amendment IV) to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. It prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. In addition, it sets requirements for issuing warrants: warrants must be issued by a judge or magistrate, justified by probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and must particularly describe the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.
Fourth Amendment case law deals with three main issues: what government activities are "searches" and "seizures," what constitutes probable cause to conduct searches and seizures, and how violations of Fourth Amendment rights should be addressed. Early court decisions limited the amendment's scope to physical intrusion of property or persons, but with Katz v. United States (1967), the Supreme Court held that its protections extend to intrusions on the privacy of individuals as well as to physical locations. A warrant is needed for most search and seizure activities, but the Court has carved out a series of exceptions for consent searches, motor vehicle searches, evidence in plain view, exigent circumstances, border searches, and other situations.
The exclusionary rule is one way the amendment is enforced. Established in Weeks v. United States (1914), this rule holds that evidence obtained as a result of a Fourth Amendment violation is generally inadmissible at criminal trials. Evidence discovered as a later result of an illegal search may also be inadmissible as "fruit of the poisonous tree", unless it inevitably would have been discovered by legal means.
The Fourth Amendment was adopted in response to the abuse of the writ of assistance, a type of general search warrant issued by the British government, and a major source of tension in pre-Revolutionary America. The Fourth Amendment was introduced in Congress in 1789 by James Madison, along with the other amendments in the Bill of Rights, in response to Anti-Federalist objections to the new Constitution. Congress submitted the amendment to the states on September 28, 1789. By December 15, 1791, the necessary three-fourths of the states had ratified it. On March 1, 1792, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson announced that it was officially part of the Constitution.
Because the Bill of Rights did not initially apply to state or local governments, and federal criminal investigations were less common in the first century of the nation's history, there is little significant case law for the Fourth Amendment before the 20th century. The amendment was held to apply to state and local governments in Mapp v. Ohio (1961) via the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.List of amendments to the United States Constitution
Thirty-three amendments to the United States Constitution have been proposed by the United States Congress and sent to the states for ratification since the Constitution was put into operation on March 4, 1789. Twenty-seven of these, having been ratified by the requisite number of states, are part of the Constitution. The first ten amendments were adopted and ratified simultaneously and are known collectively as the Bill of Rights. Six amendments adopted by Congress and sent to the states have not been ratified by the required number of states. Four of these amendments are still technically open and pending, one is closed and has failed by its own terms, and one is closed and has failed by the terms of the resolution proposing it. All 33 amendments are listed and detailed in the tables below.
Article Five of the United States Constitution details the two-step process for amending the nation's frame of government. Amendments must be properly proposed and ratified before becoming operative. This process was designed to strike a balance between the excesses of constant change and inflexibility.
An amendment may be proposed and sent to the states for ratification by either:
The United States Congress, whenever a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives deem it necessary;orA national convention, called by Congress for this purpose, on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds (currently 34) of the states..
To become part of the Constitution, an amendment must be ratified by either (as determined by Congress):
The legislatures of three-fourths (currently 38) of the states, within the stipulated time period if one is set;orState ratifying conventions in three-fourths (currently 38) of the states, within the stipulated time period if one is set.
When a constitutional amendment is sent to the states for ratification, the Archivist of the United States is charged with responsibility for administering the ratification process under the provisions of 1 U.S.C. § 106b. Then, upon being properly ratified, the archivist issues a certificate proclaiming that an amendment has become an operative part of the Constitution.Approximately 11,770 proposals to amend the Constitution have been introduced in Congress since 1789 (as of January 3, 2019). Collectively, members of the House and Senate typically propose around 200 amendments during each two–year term of Congress. Most, however, never get out of the Congressional committees in which they were proposed, and only a fraction of those that do receive enough support to win Congressional approval to go through the constitutional ratification process.
Beginning in the early 20th century, Congress has usually, but not always, stipulated that an amendment must be ratified by the required number of states within seven years from the date of its submission to the states in order to become part of the Constitution. Congress' authority to set ratification deadline was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court in Coleman v. Miller, 307 U.S. 433 (1939).Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Nineteenth Amendment (Amendment XIX) to the United States Constitution prohibits the states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex. The amendment was adopted on August 18, 1920 as the culmination of the women's suffrage movement in the United States, which fought at both state and national levels to achieve the vote. It effectively overruled Minor v. Happersett (1875), in which a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment did not give women the right to vote. Since the 1860s, an increasing number of states had given women the right to vote, but several states still denied women the right to vote at the time the amendment was ratified.
The Nineteenth Amendment was originally introduced in Congress in 1878 by Senator Aaron A. Sargent. Forty-one years later, in 1919, Congress submitted it to the states for ratification. It was ratified by three-fourths of the states a year later, with Tennessee's ratification being the last needed to add the amendment to the Constitution. In Leser v. Garnett (1922), the Supreme Court rejected claims that the amendment was unconstitutionally adopted.Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Seventeenth Amendment (Amendment XVII) to the United States Constitution established the popular election of United States Senators by the people of the states. The amendment supersedes Article I, §3, Clauses 1 and 2 of the Constitution, under which senators were elected by state legislatures. It also alters the procedure for filling vacancies in the Senate, allowing for state legislatures to permit their governors to make temporary appointments until a special election can be held.
The amendment was proposed by the 62nd Congress in 1912 and became part of the Constitution on April 8, 1913 on ratification by three-fourths (36) of the state legislatures. Sitting Senators were not affected by the Amendment's provisions until their existing terms expired, so the Amendment took six years to fully implement. The transition began with two special elections in 1913 and 1914 - the first in Maryland and the second in Alabama. The transition then began in earnest with the November 1914 election, and was complete on 4 March 1919 when the Senators chosen at the November 1918 election took office.Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Tenth Amendment (Amendment X) to the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, was ratified on December 15, 1791. It expresses the principle of federalism and states' rights, which strictly supports the entire plan of the original Constitution for the United States of America, by stating that the federal government possesses only those powers delegated to it by the United States Constitution. All remaining powers are reserved for the states or the people.
The amendment was proposed by the 1st United States Congress in 1789 during its first term following the adoption of the Constitution. It was considered by many members as a prerequisite to many state ratifications of the Constitution and particularly to satisfy demands of Anti-Federalists who opposed the creation of a stronger federal government.
The drafters of this amendment had two purposes in mind: first, as a necessary rule of construction; and second, as a reaffirmation of the nature of federalism.Third Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Third Amendment (Amendment III) to the United States Constitution places restrictions on the quartering of soldiers in private homes without the owner's consent, forbidding the practice in peacetime. The amendment is a response to Quartering Acts passed by the British parliament during the buildup to the American Revolutionary War, which had allowed the British Army to lodge soldiers in private residences.
The Third Amendment was introduced in Congress in 1789 by James Madison as a part of the United States Bill of Rights, in response to Anti-Federalist objections to the new Constitution. Congress proposed the amendment to the states on September 28, 1789, and by December 15, 1791, the necessary three-quarters of the states had ratified it. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson announced the adoption of the amendment on March 1, 1792.
The amendment is one of the least controversial of the Constitution and is rarely litigated, with the American Bar Association calling it the "runt piglet" of the U.S. Constitution. To date, it has never been the primary basis of a Supreme Court decision, though it was the basis of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit case Engblom v. Carey.Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Thirteenth Amendment (Amendment XIII) to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. In Congress, it was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, and by the House on January 31, 1865. The amendment was ratified by the required number of states on December 6, 1865. On December 18, 1865, Secretary of State William H. Seward proclaimed its adoption. It was the first of the three Reconstruction Amendments adopted following the American Civil War.
Since the American Revolution, states had divided into states that allowed or states that prohibited slavery. Slavery was implicitly permitted in the original Constitution through provisions such as Article I, Section 2, Clause 3, commonly known as the Three-Fifths Compromise, which detailed how each slave state's enslaved population would be factored into its total population count for the purposes of apportioning seats in the United States House of Representatives and direct taxes among the states. Though many slaves had been declared free by President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, their post-war status was uncertain. On April 8, 1864, the Senate passed an amendment to abolish slavery. After one unsuccessful vote and extensive legislative maneuvering by the Lincoln administration, the House followed suit on January 31, 1865. The measure was swiftly ratified by nearly all Northern states, along with a sufficient number of border states up to the death of Lincoln, but approval came with President Andrew Johnson, who encouraged the "reconstructed" Southern states of Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia to agree, which brought the count to 27 states, and caused it to be adopted before the end of 1865.
Though the amendment formally abolished slavery throughout the United States, factors such as Black Codes, white supremacist violence, and selective enforcement of statutes continued to subject some black Americans to involuntary labor, particularly in the South. In contrast to the other Reconstruction Amendments, the Thirteenth Amendment was rarely cited in later case law, but has been used to strike down peonage and some race-based discrimination as "badges and incidents of slavery." The Thirteenth Amendment applies to the actions of private citizens, while the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments apply only to state actors. The Thirteenth Amendment also enables Congress to pass laws against sex trafficking and other modern forms of slavery.Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Twenty-fifth Amendment (Amendment XXV) to the United States Constitution deals with issues related to presidential succession and disability. It clarifies that the Vice President becomes President (as opposed to Acting President) if the president dies, resigns, or is removed from office; and establishes procedures for filling a vacancy in the office of the vice president and for responding to presidential disabilities. The Twenty-fifth Amendment was submitted to the states on July 6, 1965, by the 89th Congress and was adopted on February 10, 1967.Twenty-second Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Twenty-second Amendment (Amendment XXII) to the United States Constitution sets a limit on the number of times an individual is eligible for election to the office of President of the United States, and also sets additional eligibility conditions for presidents who succeed to the unexpired terms of their predecessors.Prior to the ratification of the amendment, the president had not been subject to term limits, but George Washington had established a two-term tradition that many other presidents had followed. In the 1940 presidential election, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first president to win a third term, giving rise to concerns about the potential issues involved with a president serving an unlimited number of terms. Congress approved the Twenty-second Amendment on March 24, 1947 , and submitted it to the state legislatures for ratification. That process was completed on February 27, 1951, after the amendment had been ratified by the requisite 36 of the then-48 states (as neither Alaska nor Hawaii had yet been admitted as states), and its provisions came into force on that date.
The amendment prohibits any individual who has been elected president twice from being elected again. Under the amendment, an individual who fills an unexpired presidential term lasting greater than two years is also prohibited from winning election as president more than once. Scholars debate whether the amendment prohibits affected individuals from succeeding to the presidency under any circumstances or whether it only applies to presidential elections.Twenty-seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Twenty-seventh Amendment (Amendment XXVII) to the United States Constitution 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. The amendment is the most recent to be adopted, but one of the first proposed.
It was submitted by the 1st Congress to the states for ratification on September 25, 1789, along with eleven other proposed amendments. While ten of these twelve proposals were ratified in 1791 to become the Bill of Rights, what would become the Twenty-seventh Amendment and the proposed Congressional Apportionment Amendment did not get ratified by enough states for them to also come into force with the first ten amendments.
The proposed congressional pay amendment was largely forgotten until 1982, when Gregory Watson, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote a paper for a government class in which he claimed that the amendment could still be ratified. A teaching assistant graded the paper a "C" and an appeal to the professor, Sharon Waite, failed, motivating Watson to launch a nationwide campaign to complete its ratification. The amendment eventually became part of the United States Constitution, effective May 5, 1992, completing a record-setting ratification period of 202 years, 7 months, and 10 days.Twenty-sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Twenty-sixth Amendment (Amendment XXVI) to the United States Constitution prohibits the states and the federal government from using age as a reason for denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States who are at least eighteen years old. It was proposed by Congress on March 23, 1971, and ratified on July 1, 1971, the quickest ratification of an amendment in history.
Various public officials had supported lowering the voting age during the mid-20th century, but were unable to gain the legislative momentum necessary for passing a constitutional amendment. The drive to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 grew across the country during the 1960s, driven in large part by the military draft held during the Vietnam War, as well as the student activism movement. The draft conscripted young men between the ages of 18 and 21 into the armed forces, primarily the U.S. Army, to serve in or support military combat operations in Vietnam. A common slogan of proponents of lowering the voting age was "old enough to fight, old enough to vote."
Congress lowered the national voting age to 18 in a 1970 bill that extended the Voting Rights Act, but the Supreme Court subsequently held in the case of Oregon v. Mitchell that Congress could not lower the voting age for state and local elections. Shortly after that ruling, Congress proposed and the states ratified the Twenty-sixth Amendment, which constitutionally enshrined voting rights for individuals between 18 and 21 years old.
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