Congress and the Constitution: The Twenty-seventh Amendment and the Past and Future of Constitutional Alteration

James W. Endersby, L. Marvin Overby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The most recent addition to the U.S. Constitution is also one of the first proposed amendments. The 27th Amendment restricts change to congressional salaries until after the next election. First drafted by James Madison and approved by Congress in 1789, the proposal was among a package of 12 items sent to the states. Ten of those proposed amendments were ratified and became known as the Bill of Rights. The others languished with only occasional attention by constitutional scholars. In the early 1980s, an undergraduate student at the University of Texas wrote a term paper arguing for adoption of the limits on congressional pay raises. After receiving a C grade from his teaching assistant and instructor, the student rejected the opinions of his teachers and independently pursued the adoption of Madison's proposal. Gregory Watson single-handedly mounted a letter-writing and lobbying campaign that caused state legislators to redirect their attention to the proposed amendment. In 1992, following a most unusual ratification process—including certification by the Archivist of the United States—the measure became the 27th Amendment. In this article, we trace the history of the amendment, demonstrate that its impact has been more symbolic than substantive, and argue that Congress needs to reassert its authority over the amendment process in line with the letter and spirit of Article V. The 27th Amendment has a peculiar constitutional history, and there are lessons we should learn from that experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)166-184
Number of pages19
JournalCongress and the Presidency
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 4 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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