What Is the 27th Amendment?

Andy Josiah

The 27th Amendment is an amendment of the United States’ supreme law, called the U.S. Constitution. It prevents any changes made to the salaries of Congress members from taking effect until the members of the House of Representatives—one of the two houses that comprise the bicameral legislature—have been elected. Also known as the Madison Amendment, the Congressional Compensation Amendment of 1789, or the Congressional Pay Amendment, the 27th Amendment is notable as being a recent amendment to the Constitution, although the concept is almost as old as the law that it modifies.

The US Constitution.
The US Constitution.

The origin of the 27th Amendment can be traced as far back as 1788, to a convention held in North Carolina to go over the original draft of the Constitution. In that same year, Virginia and New York followed North Carolina in suggesting ratification of the amendment during their own conventions. James Madison, then a U.S. representative, presented it on 25 September 1789 as one of the first 12 amendments designed for ratification, 10 of which would become the U.S. Bill of Rights in 1791. Congress sent the amendment to the state legislatures soon afterward.

The 27th Amendment addresses changes to pay for members of Congress.
The 27th Amendment addresses changes to pay for members of Congress.

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Within two years of Madison’s presentation of the compensation amendment, six states—Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia—had ensured formal sanction via their legislatures. About four decades later, between 1816 and 1818, Massachusetts, Kentucky and Tennessee followed suit. The ratification process of the 27th Amendment, however, was ultimately very slow to achieve. This was because as the number of states grew, so did the minimum number of states required for ratification.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision of Coleman v. Miller, 307 U.S 433 (1939) was a major turning point in the approval of the 27th Amendment. It stipulates that state legislatures with Congress-proposed amendments that lack ratification deadlines are deemed pending, with Congress deciding on the reasonable amount of time between initial proposal of the amendment and state ratification. This set in motion the eventual ratification of the 27th Amendment, which was further bolstered by the state legislature letter-writing quest of an undergraduate student from the University of Texas at Austin named Gregory Watson.

The 27th Amendment was finally officially certified on 18 May 1992, having hit the ratification threshold. By then, 41 states had approved the amendment. Five more states—California, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Kentucky and Washington—joined the list within the next four years. As of 2011, only five states of the Union—Massacusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York and Pennsyvania—have not yet ratified the compensation amendment.

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