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27th Amendment

27th Amendment

The 27th amendment is unique in that it took nearly 200 years since it was proposed to actually be ratified by the states. The 27th amendment deals with pay raise or decreases for members of Congress.

Changes to Congressional pay must take effect after the next term of office for the representatives. This means that another election would have had to occur before the pay raises can take effect.

The fact that Congress has the power to set its salary was something that worried the original authors of the amendment that would become the 27th amendment in 1992. Many states too, during the debates over ratifying the Constitution, expressed concern over congressional pay. During the first round of ratification, only six states, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Delaware, Vermont, and Virginia ratified the amendment. Other states would ratify this amendment in bursts, with the digest drive toward ratification occurring the in late ‘80s to early 90s.

You may wonder why an amendment could be ratified almost 200 years after its proposal. In the Supreme Court case of Coleman v. Miller, the court ruled that if the amendment had an unspecified date, then the state legislatures could approve the amendment at any time.

You may remember that some amendments, such as the 21st amendment repealing Prohibition specified a frame of seven years that would render the amendment “inoperative.” The amendment that would become the 27th amendment did not have such a provision, which allowed the final states, Missouri, Michigan, New Jersey, and Illinois to all ratify the amendment in May of 1992 and force its ratification over the objections of some elected officials.

Only 38 states were required to ratify the amendment, but Kentucky found out that it had ratified the amendment decades earlier and the few remaining states all ratified the amendment in quick succession before the Archivist of the United States certified the amendment. Congress would then pass a resolution agreeing the amendment was valid, ending the challenges to it.

What is the text of the 27th 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.
(No law that would pay representative more or less in salary or other income will be allowed to take effect until after there has been another election)

What is a COLA?

A cost of living adjustment (COLA) allows salaries to rise to keep pace with inflation. Inflation is when prices go up because the value of money has gone down. This allows for instant increases in salary. The 27th amendment was found not to have control over COLA and the Supreme Court refused to hear any case about the right of Congress to collect COLA on their salaries.



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