Hundreds of proposed amendments to the United States Constitution are introduced during each session of the United States Congress. From 1789 through January 3, 2019, approximately 11,770 measures have been proposed to amend the United States Constitution. Collectively, members of the House and Senate typically propose around 200 amendments during each two-year term of Congress. Most, however, never get out of the Congressional committees in which they were proposed. Only a fraction of those actually receive enough support to win Congressional approval to go through the constitutional ratification process. Some proposed amendments are introduced over and over again in different sessions of Congress. It is also common for a number of identical resolutions to be offered on issues that have widespread public and congressional support.
Since 1789, Congress has sent 33 constitutional amendments to the states for ratification. Of these, 27 have been ratified. The framers of the Constitution, recognizing the difference between regular legislation and constitutional matters, intended that it be difficult to change the Constitution; but not so difficult as to render it an inflexible instrument of government, as the amendment mechanism in the Articles of Confederation, which required a unanimous vote of thirteen states for ratification, had proven to be. Therefore, a less stringent process for amending the Constitution was established in Article V.
Amending the United States Constitution is a two-step process. Proposals to amend it must be properly adopted and ratified before becoming operative. A proposed amendment may be adopted and sent to the states for ratification by either:
- A national convention, called by Congress for this purpose, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds (presently 34) of the states.
The latter procedure has never been used. To become part of the Constitution, an adopted amendment must be ratified by either:
- The legislatures of three-fourths (presently 38) of the states, within the stipulated time period, if any;
- State ratifying conventions in three-fourths (presently 38) of the states, within the stipulated time period, if any.
The decision of which ratification method will be used for any given amendment is Congress' alone to make, as is the decision to set a ratification deadline. Only for the 21st amendment was the latter procedure invoked and followed. Upon being properly ratified, an amendment becomes an operative addition to the Constitution.
Constitutional amendment proposals considered in but not approved by Congress during the 19th century included:
- The Dueling Ban Amendment, proposed in 1838, after Representative William Graves killed another Representative, Jonathan Cilley, in a duel, would have prohibited any person involved in a duel from holding federal office.
- Shortly before his death during the congressional debates leading to the Compromise of 1850, John C. Calhoun proposed constitutional amendments requiring an equal number of slave states and free states and creating two co-Presidents from the North and the South which would have to concur on all legislation. A similar amendment to eliminate the presidency so as to have two elected officials in its place, was proposed by Virginia Representative Albert Jenkins in 1860 shortly before sectional tensions escalated into the American Civil War. Jenkins saw the amendment as a way for both the Northern and the Southern states to be represented equally in the government at a given time.
- The Christian Amendment, first proposed in February 1863, would have added acknowledgment of the Christian God in the Preamble to the Constitution. Similar amendments were proposed in 1874, 1896, and 1910 with none passing. The last attempt in 1954 did not come to a vote.
- The Blaine Amendment, proposed in 1875, would have banned public funds from going to religious purposes, in order to prevent Catholics from taking advantage of such funds. Though it failed to pass, many states adopted such provisions.
- An amendment allowing property-owning unmarried women to vote was proposed by Representative William Mason. It was reportedly proposed because husbands could vote for the married women but the others "love their country, having no husband to love better than themselves", and the women were referred to as "spinsters and widows". (The Nineteenth Amendment established women's suffrage irrespective of marital status or property in 1920.)
- Representative Lucas M. Miller proposed renaming the United States of America to the United States of the Earth in 1893, as well as abolishing the Army and Navy.
Constitutional amendment proposals considered in but not approved by Congress during the 20th century included the following:
- An amendment abolishing the Senate was proposed by Representative Victor Berger in 1911, due to his belief that it was corrupt as well as useless to the country as a whole. The amendment would have also shielded the unicameral House of Representatives' legislation from presidential veto and judicial review.
- An Anti-Miscegenation Amendment was proposed by Representative Seaborn Roddenbery, a Southern Democrat from Georgia, in 1912 to forbid interracial marriages nationwide. This was spurred when black boxer Jack Johnson garnered much publicity when he married a white woman, Lucille Cameron. Similar amendments were proposed by Congressman Andrew King, a Missourian Democrat, in 1871 and by Senator Coleman Blease, a South Carolinian Democrat, in 1928. None were passed by Congress, although numerous state legislatures passed laws prohibiting interracial marriage before they were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court's 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision.
- An Anti-Polygamy Amendment was proposed by Representative Frederick Gillett, a Massachusetts Republican, on January 24, 1914, and supported by former U.S. Senator from Utah, Frank J. Cannon, and by the National Reform Association.
- The Ludlow Amendment was proposed by Representative Louis Ludlow in 1937. This amendment would have heavily reduced America's ability to be involved in war, requiring a national referendum to confirm any declaration of war. Public support for the amendment was very robust through the 1930s, a period when isolationism was the prevailing mood in the United States.
- A maximum wage amendment that no person should accumulate more than $1 million was proposed by Representative Wesley Lloyd in 1933. In the wake of the Wall Street Crash and the beginnings of the Great Depression many Americans believed that personal wealth should be limited to avoid such an issue from happening again.
- An amendment to limit investment income was proposed by Representative J. Buell Snyder in 1933.
- Multiple attempts to repeal the 21st Amendment ending Prohibition were proposed by Representative Morris Sheppard, introducer of the 18th Amendment originally banning alcoholic beverages, from 1935 to 1938, followed by attempt to outlaw drunkenness after his first proposals failed.
- The Bricker Amendment, proposed in 1951 by Ohio Senator John W. Bricker, would have limited the federal government's treaty-making power by prohibiting treaties from violating the U.S. Constitution and limiting executive agreements. Opposed by President Dwight Eisenhower, it failed twice to reach the threshold of two-thirds of voting members necessary for passage, the first time by eight votes and the second time by a single vote.
- A repeal of the Twenty-second Amendment would eliminate term limits for presidents. Presidents Harry S. Truman, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump all expressed support for some sort of repeal. The first efforts in Congress to repeal the 22nd Amendment were undertaken in 1956, only five years after its ratification. According to the Congressional Research Service, over the ensuing half-century (through 2008) 54 joint resolutions seeking to repeal the two-term presidential election limit were introduced; none were given serious consideration. The most recent attempt was launched by Representative José Serrano (D-New York) in 2013, during the 113th Congress.
- A School Prayer Amendment to establish that "the people retain the right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, and traditions on public property, including schools" was proposed by Robert Byrd of West Virginia in 1962, 1973, 1979, 1982, 1993, 1995, 1997, and 2006. Representative Ernest Istook, a Republican from Oklahoma's 5th congressional district, proposed the amendment in the House on May 8, 1997. In March 1998, the House Judiciary Committee passed the bill by a 16–11 vote. On June 4, 1998, the full House voted on the amendment, 224–203 in favor. The vote was 61 short of the required two-thirds majority.
- A Flag Desecration Amendment was first proposed in 1995 to give Congress the power to make acts such as flag burning illegal, seeking to overturn the 1990 Supreme Court Texas v. Johnson decision ruling that such laws were unconstitutional. During each term of Congress from 1995 to 2005, the proposed amendment was passed by the House of Representatives, but never by the Senate, coming closest during voting on June 27, 2006, with 66 in support and 34 opposed (one vote short).
- The Bayh–Celler amendment was the closest the United States has come to passing an Electoral College abolition amendment. The amendment would have replaced the current Electoral College with a simpler two-round system modeled after French presidential elections. It was proposed during the 91st Congress (1969–1971). The House Judiciary Committee voted 28–6 to approve the proposal and was eventually passed by the full House with bipartisan support on September 18, 1969, by a vote of 339 to 70. The Senate commenced openly debating the proposal and the proposal was quickly filibustered. On September 17, 1970, a motion for cloture, which would have ended the filibuster, received 54 votes to 36 for cloture, failing to receive the then required a two-thirds majority of senators voting. Other proposals were made in 2005, 2009, and 2016, none of which were voted on by committee.
- The Human Life Amendment, first proposed in 1973, would overturn the Roe v. Wade court ruling and prohibit abortion. A total of 330 proposals using varying texts have been proposed with almost all dying in committee. The only version that reached a formal floor vote, the Hatch–Eagleton Amendment, was rejected by 18 votes in the Senate on June 28, 1983.
- A balanced budget amendment, in which Congress and the President are forced to balance the budget every year, has been introduced many times, dating back to the 1930s. No measure passed either body of Congress until 1982, when the Senate took 11 days to consider it and gained the necessary two-thirds majority. The first and only time the House gave two-thirds approval to a balanced budget amendment was in 1995, when Members of the House of Representatives elected in the Republican Revolution voted for the Contract with America. That was also the last time the House held a floor or committee vote.
- Various proposed amendments for congressional term limits have been made since Supreme Court ruled state term limits on federal officials to be unconstitutional in the U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton decision in 1995.
- The single subject amendment, an amendment first proposed in 1996, would introduce a single-subject rule blocking members of Congress from adding riders to bills.
Constitutional amendment proposals considered in but not approved by Congress thus far in the 21st century have included:
- The Equal Opportunity to Govern Amendment, proposed in July 2003 by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), would repeal the Constitution's natural born citizen clause, thus allowing naturalized citizens – who have been U.S. citizens for at least twenty years – to become President of the United States or Vice President. It was widely seen as an attempt to make California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (born in Austria and naturalized in 1983) eligible for the presidency and is sometimes nicknamed the "Arnold Amendment" or "Amend for Arnold".
- The Federal Marriage Amendment has been introduced in the United States Congress four times: in 2003, 2004, 2005/2006, and 2008 by multiple members of Congress. It would define marriage and prohibit same-sex marriage, even at the state level. The last Congressional vote on the proposed amendment occurred in the House of Representatives on July 18, 2006, when the motion failed 236–187, falling short of the 290 votes required for passage in that body. The Senate has voted only on cloture motions with regard to the proposed amendment, the last of which was on June 7, 2006, when the motion failed 49 to 48, falling short of the 60 votes required to allow the Senate to proceed to consideration of the proposal and the 67 votes required to send the proposed amendment to the states for ratification.
- Various campaign finance reform amendments have been introduced in Congress since the United States Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling declaring that the First Amendment's free speech clause prohibits the federal government from restricting independent expenditures for communications by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other associations. They include: the People's Rights Amendment, introduced on November 15, 2011 by Representative James P. McGovern; the Saving American Democracy Amendment, introduced on December 8, 2011 by Senator Bernie Sanders; and the We the People Amendment, introduced in the 113th (February 23, 2013), 114th (April 29, 2015), and 115th (January 30, 2017) Congresses by Representative Rick Nolan and in the 116th (February 22, 2019) by Representative Pramila Jayapal.
- Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Steven Palazzo proposed constitutional amendments barring the government from imposing taxes on refusal to purchase goods and services. The amendment would have invalidated the individual mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requiring legal persons to purchase health insurance.
- Representative Randy Neugebauer introduced an amendment requiring a two-thirds majority for Congress to raise the debt ceiling.
- Various proposals have been made for a constitutional amendment abolishing birthright citizenship for children of foreign nationals as a deterrent against illegal immigration. President Donald Trump endorsed a similar proposal during the 2016 presidential election.
- Representative Steve King introduced an amendment repealing the Sixteenth Amendment and abolishing the income tax.
- Representative John Culberson introduced an amendment altering Article V to limit any national convention convoked by the states to amend the Constitution to a single amendment and requiring Congress to authorize such as a convention. This amendment, sometimes called the "Madison Amendment", would prevent a "runaway convention" from drastically altering or replacing the U.S. Constitution.
- Various proposals were made by Republican members of Congress to base congressional apportionments on the number of citizens in a state rather than residents following the Evenwel v. Abbott decision in 2016.
- Representative Al Green introduced an amendment prohibiting the President of the United States from issuing a pardon for himself.
- Representative Eliot Engel introduced an amendment prohibiting barriers to voting for adult Americans including "undue burden of proof of identity or citizenship", prohibiting foreign interference in elections and "undue or anonymous influence from any person", guaranteeing that electoral districts must be composed of geographically compact and contiguous territory, and designating Election Day as a national holiday unable to be altered by the government. The amendment was proposed after the Shelby County v. Holder case overruled parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and in light of Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections. Many key aspects of the amendment were incorporated into the proposed For the People Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives.
- Representative Cedric Richmond introduced an amendment in the 116th Congress to repeal the penal exception clause from the Thirteenth Amendment, prohibiting unfree labor from being used as a punishment.
- Representative Tom Marino introduced an amendment to amend Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution to change the terms of Representatives from two years to four (with elections to be held in non-presidential years), but then resigned afterward. Proposals for extending the terms of House members date back to a similar proposal by Lyndon B. Johnson for 4-year terms, renewable in presidential years, in his 1966 State of the Union Address.
- In response to revived advocacy among progressive activists for expansion of the Supreme Court beyond the customary nine members (as the Constitution does not specify how many justices should sit on the court), Democratic Representative Collin Peterson and Republican Representative Denver Riggleman filed a proposed amendment in the 116th Congress to limit the Supreme Court membership to nine members maximum. A group of Republican congressmembers including Senators Ted Cruz and Thom Tillis proposed an identical amendment a few weeks later, in an entirely separate effort from that of Peterson and Riggleman.