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How a C-grade college term paper led to a constitutional amendment - National Constitutional Center

National Constitution Center 




The 27th Amendment is the most recent amendment to the Constitution, and its existence today can be traced to a college student who proposed the idea in a term paper and was given a C by his professor for the idea.

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the amendment’s ratification in 1992, and it seems likely we won’t see a 28th amendment for some time.

“No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened,” the amendment reads, as approved in 1992. In short, the amendment states that a sitting Congress can’t give itself a raise (or cut its pay) during its current session. Any pay raise or hike would take effect for the Congress that follows a sitting Congress.

It’s not a new idea. Founding Father James Madison first proposed back in 1789 along with other amendments that became the Bill of Rights, but it took 203 years for it to become the law of the land.

In 1982, a college undergraduate student, Gregory Watson, discovered that the proposed amendment could still be ratified and started a grassroots campaign. Watson was also an aide to Texas state senator Ric Williamson.

Shortly after the amendment was ratified a decade later, New York Law School professor Richard B. Bernstein traced the journey from 1789 to 1992 in a Fordham Law Review article.

Bernstein called Watson the “step-father” of the 27th Amendment. Watson was a sophomore at the University of Texas-Austin in 1982 and he needed a topic for a government course. Watson researched the 27th Amendment and found that six states had ratified it by 1792, and then there was little activity about it.

Watson concluded that the amendment could still be ratified, because Congress had never stipulated a time limit for states to consider it for ratification. Watson’s professor gave him a C for the paper, calling the whole idea a “dead letter” issue and saying it would never become part of the Constitution.

“The professor gave me a C on the paper. When I protested she said I had not convinced her the amendment was still pending,”...more



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