Article V Primer
What is Article V?
Article V is the portion of the United States Constitution that provides instructions as to how the Constitution may be amended.
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.
Article V invests two entities with the authority to propose amendments: Congress and the states. Because the states don’t all meet together on a regular basis as Congress does, if they want to propose amendments, they need to set up a special meeting to do it. That meeting is commonly referred to as an Article V Convention.
All amendments made to our Constitution thus far have been passed by Congress. Although Congress has considered over 11,000 measures over the years, only 33 have achieved the necessary 2/3 vote in both the House and the Senate to be passed to the states for ratification. Of these, the states have ratified 27.
There is no time limit placed on the states to ratify an amendment unless one has specifically been specified, as was the case with the Equal Rights Amendment, which had a 7-year sunset clause for ratification.
After an amendment is approved by Congress or a Convention, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the states (currently 38) before it becomes a part of our Constitution.
Once the state legislatures elected in the November 2018 mid-term elections are seated, there will be 30 states in which both chambers are under Republican control, 18 under Democrat control, one (Minnesota) in which Republicans and Democrats each control one chamber, and one state (Nebraska) that is unicameral and, ostensibly, non-partisan. This is important because neither party will be able to advance any agenda item all the way to ratification without securing the support of at least a few states that are controlled by the other.
Map courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“Post-election 2018 State & Legislative Partisan Composition,” National Conference of State Legislatures, November 21, 2018; available on-line at http://www.ncsl.org/Portals/1/Documents/Elections/Legis_Control_112118_26973.pdf; accessed 28 November 2018.