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Public Statements

Recognizing the 20th Anniversary of the Unique Ratification of the 27th Amendment to the United States Constitution

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. MARCHANT. Mr. Speaker, I rise to call attention to an important milestone in American constitutional history. This month, May 2012, marks the 20th anniversary of the unusual ratification of the 27th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which provides quite simply that any change in the level of compensation which Members of Congress receive from the United States Treasury must take effect until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

This particular constitutional amendment (sometimes referred to as the ``Madison Amendment'') underwent the most unorthodox path to ratification of any amendment ever successfully incorporated into the Federal Constitution thus far in our Nation's history. This amendment was originally proposed by Congress on September 25, 1798 but, despite the obvious wisdom of the amendment's purpose, it was not fully approved by enough State legislatures until 202 years later. When lawmakers in more than the required 38 states provided their approvals in May 1992, the 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was finally ratified.

Altering the United States Constitution was never meant to be an easy task. The Founding Fathers wisely composed Article V of the Constitution--which sets forth the process for amending it--in such a manner as to make changes in the document difficult to accomplish without a clear consensus. However, so strong was the common-sense appeal of what we know today as the 27th Amendment that State legislators of diverse political philosophy were able to agree in a bipartisan fashion that such a provision correctly belonged in the U.S. Constitution. As a former member of the Texas House of Representatives back in the late 1980s, I was privileged to have played a direct role myself in the 27th Amendment's idiosyncratic route to ratification. On May 25, 1989, I proudly cast a final ``aye'' vote on House Joint Resolution No. 6 by which the 71st Texas Legislature endorsed this sound and prudent one-sentence addition to America's highest legal document.

Now, two decades after its ratification was duly achieved, it is appropriate to reflect upon the lesson which the 27th Amendment has taught America, not only about the constitutional amendment process itself, but also about citizen action in influencing the law-making process. To that end, I respectfully request that a June 1, 1992 article from People magazine be included in the record at the conclusion of my remarks. The focus of this article is a gentleman named Gregory Watson, whom I had the pleasure to know during my tenure at the State Capitol in Austin while he was employed by a few of my colleagues in the Texas Legislature.

Mr. Speaker, we in the Congress debate every now and then about various proposed additions that some of us advocate to the Federal Constitution. The extraordinary ratification of its 27th Amendment furnishes to us ample evidence that, while perhaps rather time-consuming, it remains worthy of our attention, and merits utilization of our resources, to continue discussion about needed refinements to our Nation's great charter.[From People magazine, June 1, 1992]

THE MAN WHO WOULD NOT QUIT

A tenacious Texan wins his 10-year fight for a new constitutional amendment
No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

It only took 202 years, but last week United States Archivist Don Wilson officially certified that the U.S. Constitution has a new amendment. Given the current hostility to Congress, the new measure captured the mood of a fed-up electorate. It prevents Congress from giving itself pay raises retroactively or in mid-term, which it has done from time to time. Despite the new amendment's popularity, it would probably never have become law if 30-year-old Gregory Watson, an obscure administrative assistant to a Texas state legislator, had been a less persistent man. Ten years ago, while a student at the University of Texas-Austin, he began a one-man campaign to enact the Twenty-seventh Amendment. His reason? He got a C on a term paper.

The paper, for a government class, argued that the amendment could--and should--be passed. At the time, the proposal, originally drafted by James Madison in 1789, had been ratified by only eight states, six of them during the 18th century. Watson says his professor felt the amendment was a legal dead letter, even though it had no time limit, and gave him the low mark. ``I was very disgusted,'' he says ``but undaunted.''

He ran his campaign the old-fashioned way--by mail, writing to legislators in states that had yet to pass the amendment. He spent $6,000--all of it his own money. He refused all outside help. ``I wanted to do it by myself,'' he says. ``I wanted to prove that one person could do it alone.''

Prove it, he did. On May 7, Michigan became the 38th--and deciding--state to OK the amendment, which had to be ratified by three-quarters of the states in order to take effect. Later that same day New Jersey voted its approval, and on May 12, Illinois joined in. Watson, who is single, was jubilant. ``I wanted to show the American people what can be done if they just put forth a little elbow grease,'' he says. ``You can wield a great deal of power, and one person can still make a difference in this country.''


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