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27th Amendment Explained

Anuj Mudaliar Mar 3, 2020
In the United States Constitution, the 27th Amendment is concerned mainly with granting pay raises to the members of Congress. Here, we have explained the 27th Amendment in a simplified manner, along with its history, purpose, and much more.

Did You Know?

The Twenty Seventh Amendment to the U.S Constitution is the longest any Amendment has taken to be ratified. It was initially proposed in 1789, and took more than 200 years before it was ratified in 1992.
Imagine a world where every person could decide when and how much of a pay raise he or she would get, even without asking for permission from anyone. The members of the U.S. Congress actually lived such a life till 1992.
In that year, a historic Amendment put an end to these state of affairs. Although it is not very well-known, the history of the 27th Amendment to the Constitution is quite interesting.

27th Amendment Summary

The 27th Amendment states, "No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened". Essentially, the meaning of this is that, any pay raises that were elected for approval would only be effective after the next Congressional session.
The logic behind such a law was that, legislators would be more reluctant to give themselves a raise if they risked not being reelected, thereby being unable to benefit from the raise.
Also, giving yourself a raise is almost always a bad move in politics, as the constituents could view such an action to be unfair, and vote for someone else during the time of the elections. Let us see why this amendment was made in the first place.

Why Was the 27th Amendment Created?

Ever since the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1788, the American people had been concerned that the law makers of the country would try to get into office only to act in self-interest, rather than to work for the country, by giving themselves random unwarranted pay raises.
In response to this, it was James Madison who wrote the 27th Amendment, and proposed that it be included as a part of the Constitution in 1789.
Despite several other Amendments getting approved and being identified as the 'Bill of Rights', the 27th Amendment was ratified by only six states: Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Vermont, and Delaware, which was nowhere close enough. Therefore, the proposal was suspended.
This state of affairs continued for another 203 years, which made it the longest ratification process in the history of the nation. However, in 1982, a student from the University of Texas, named Gregory Watson, wrote a college assignment on John Madison's suspended proposal.
As the student worked on the project, his interest piqued, and he ended up launching a campaign to pass the proposal as a law. However, because the proposal was over 200 years old, few believed that it would actually be ratified.
However, after a decade of efforts from Watson and other supporters, the Amendment was passed on May 7,1992, when Michigan would be the 38th state to ratify the provision, finally bringing James Madison's work to fruition.

Why is it Important?

Once passed, what the 27th Amendment did, was to make sure that the members of Congress could not pass laws for their pay raises, and any effort made to do so would not have an effect to the end of the upcoming election.
The restrictions were necessary, as the people in Congress would keep the needs of the nation in mind, rather than their own. Also, new proposals that have been made by Congress had expiry dates, so that if the proposal was not agreed upon, it would then be voided. Future efforts to bring back a said proposal would require starting the process from scratch.
What is unusual about the 27th Amendment, however, is that, while most people think of it in relation to stopping only pay raises, it actually also stops the members of Congress from voting for pay cuts. However, in recent years, Congress has violated this Amendment by freezing their pay since 2009, by undoing cost-of-living adjustments to the budget.
Critics have viewed this as a political ploy by Congress members to please the ordinary citizens of America by saving taxpayer money. It is alleged that, the pay freeze would be repealed after the elections, or they could sue to recover their back pay.
These violations are yet to be challenged under the Amendment. It is up to the public to work on the enforcement of the Amendment and bring clarity to the issue once and for all.