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We just might want to demonstrate that we’re willing to close out proposed legislation which has been pending for more than 200 years now.

If we want to show the 300 million citizens of this country as well as the rest of the world that our Federal government and our national legal system are prepared to face the challenges of the 21st century, we just might want to demonstrate that we’re willing to close out proposed legislation which has been pending for more than 200 years now.

“No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

That’s the full text of the 27th Amendment Of The Constitution Of The United States Of America.  The Twenty Seventh Amendment is the most recently ratified amendment to our Constitution, it was ratified and entered into effect in May of 1992.  Most Americans are probably well aware of that.

What far fewer people seem to realize is that amendment had initially been proposed by Congress in September of 1789.  That’s not a typing error here, you did read that correctly.  Yes, it actually really took our Congress an entire 202½ years to approve of that amendment.

The 27th Amendment is actually pretty straightforward; it means precisely what the text states- that the members of both houses of Congress can elect to opt to raise the salaries of Senators and Representatives, but that the pay raises can only enter into effect after the next elections.

This does make an enormous amount of sense.  Like all currencies throughout the world, the value of the U.S. dollar fluctuates; like all currencies, the value of the American dollar experiences inflation as well as deflation.  The dollar today will not purchase what it did in 1992, or in 1989, or in 1789 for that matter.  People understand that the costs of living will fluctuate, and salaries do in fact need to reflect cost of living adjustments.  Congressmen and Congresswomen are in fact people, and they are not volunteers, and their salaries do in fact need to reflect the costs of living in or near Washington, D.C., working in Washington, D.C. and traveling to anywhere that they need to travel to so that they can research the legislation and the projects that they are working on.

While there have not yet been any instances of our Federal government overinflating the salaries of Federal employees or elected politicians within our Federal government, there have been instances of state, city and county governments approving seemingly excessively generous pay raises to their elected office holders or to their employees.  And there have been quite a few instances in other countries where elected politicians within their national legislative bodies have seemingly raised their own salaries quite generously- well beyond what the budgets of their respective offices would ordinarily accommodate for.

The 27th Amendment is simply intended to prevent our elected Congressmen and our Congresswomen from granting excessive salary raises to themselves; if the salary raises will only go into effect after subsequent elections, then those who do not get reelected or do not intend to run for reelection will not receive the raised salaries, their successors will.

This made an enormous amount of sense when this was initially proposed in 1789, this still made sense when this amendment was passed in 1992, and this still makes a lot of sense in 2016.  What makes a lot less sense however is that a piece of proposed legislation was left open for two entire centuries- that does not make an impressive amount of sense- not in the United States Of America, and not anywhere in the entire world.  Ever- under any circumstances. (Six states ratified this amendment in 1791, Kentucky ratified it in 1792, and then only one state ratified this amendment in the entirety of the 19th century, when Ohio ratified this in 1873.  It was subsequently mostly forgotten about until sometime in the late 1970’s or the early 1980’s when some law school students in Austin, Texas revived interest in it.)

Secondly- while there are entire websites which are devoted to listing the hundreds, if not thousands of preposterously obsolete local “blue laws” which still exist throughout the United States today, it is far lesser known that our Federal government still has four archaic and obsolete proposed amendments, the status of which is still officially “pending,” simply because no one has yet made the effort to finally close them out.

The Congressional Apportionment Amendment:

This amendment was initially proposed in September of 1789.  The terms of the proposed Congressional Apportionment Amendment were intended to dictate how many Representatives in the House Of Representatives each state would be assigned, based on the size of the population of each state.  The issue is very relevant to today’s world.  This proposed amendment however is obsolete.  The number of Representatives was set at 435 in 1913, and the formula for determining how many representatives each state will have within the House Of Representatives were very clearly established in the Reapportionment Act Of 1929.  The drawing of the Congressional districts themselves is left to the individual state governments.  The population is assessed every 10 years after the results of the census are calculated- therefore there is nothing within the terms of the proposed Congressional Apportionment Amendment of 1789 that has not already been very clearly clarified with more recent legislation.

The Titles of Nobility Amendment:

Very briefly, this proposed amendment from 1810 states that anyone who receives a title of nobility from a foreign monarchy or from a foreign government should be stripped of their American citizenship.

Unlike most of the other issues facing our Congressmen, Congresswomen and our state governments today, this one will also be impressively simple to resolve.  There is probably nobody anywhere in the U.S. today who actually believes that this issue makes any sense at all or that it has any relevance to today’s world.  If even one (1) person in either of the houses of Congress proposes to close out this amendment, it would probably take less than one (1) hour of debate in each house of Congress for all of the Senators and Representatives to agree unanimously that this proposal from 1810 can be closed.

In 1810, there were very legitimate reasons to be concerned that some of the families of the European monarchs would want to attempt to reclaim some of their territories that they’d lost, and that they might attempt to usurp the American government by sending people here to run for office or to influence our political institutions here.  Our revolution for independence had ended in 1783.  The members of the older generation still had memories of living under colonial rule, and the younger generations had heard quite a few stories from their parents and from their grandparents about how miserable life under colonial rule had been here.  In 1810, people within our Federal government had recognized that the U.S. was a collection of former Spanish, British, Dutch and French colonies, we would likely continue to expand, and that some of the members of the European monarchies may want to attempt to reclaim some of the territories which they’d been losing.  And these precise fears were realized in 1812.

However, after George IV seceded George III in 1820, concerns about the European monarchs attempting to reclaim territory of exert influence here gradually disappeared.  By 2016, this issue is so preposterous, most people who read this amendment would laugh when they realize that is is still officially technically “pending” today.  Two centuries ago, the titles of nobility that the European monarchs and the European aristocracy were awarding included a lot of privileges, such as land ownership and positions in foreign governments (such as the hereditary Peers in the House Of Lords in the U.K., for example), so this proposal made more sense two centuries ago than it does today.  In the 21st century, the title of nobility that the foreign monarchs awards are basically honors and a means of showing recognition for accomplishments.  In today’s world, these titles symbolic and titular, they don’t include any real legal power, privileges or authority.

We don’t really expect that whomever our next President will be (either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump) will really want to strip Rudy Giuliani of his American citizenship due to the fact that Queen Elizabeth II awarded him a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) knighthood in 2002.

The point isn’t that the proposed amendment is obsolete, the point is that Congress is ignoring it.  And unlike most other issues that our Senators and our Representatives have to address, closing out an amendment which had initially been proposed in 1810 and has been almost completely ignored and forgotten about since January of 1820 when George IV assumed the monarchy in Great Britain can be accomplished in approximately one hour.  If anyone can make sense as to why Congress won’t close this one out, do please let me know.

The Corwin Amendment:

This one can be closed easily too.  Briefly, the terms of this proposed amendment had been intended to protect some of the state’s domestic institutions from Federal law.  Most historians and Constitutional scholars believe that the initial intent of this law had probably been to ensure that the states which wanted to keep slavery legal would be able to do so, and that the Federal government would not be able to force them to end the practice.  This proposal was actually illegal when it was first proposed in 1861, because the authority of the individual state governments never supersedes the authority of the Federal government under any circumstances.  Nonetheless, the proposed Corwin Amendment was approved by both houses of Congress, it was sent to the states for ratification, and only the three states of Ohio, Illinois and Maryland actually ratified this.  Shortly after this amendment had been proposed, the Civil War began, which was a very different approach on behalf of the southern states to retain slavery.  The Civil War effectively ended any possibility that the Corwin Amendment would ever be ratified, though it has still not been officially closed.  Again, as of the summer of 2016, the status of the proposed Corwin Amendment is still officially “pending.”

The issues have been discussed throughout our history, and the proposal is clearly unconstitutional.  An entire civil war was fought during the first half of the 1860’s when the southern states refused to abolish slavery.  The Confederacy lost, they surrendered in 1865, though 100 years later, the state governments in the southern states were refusing to end segregation.  And the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it very clear, that no state domestic institutions can be shielded from the authority of our Federal government.  Not in 1861, not in 1961 and not in 2016.

This is not only relevant to civil rights issues, it is also relevant to interstate commerce.  The Federal government established the Interstate Commerce Commission was established in 1887 to ensure that the Federal regulations are not ignored by any of our state governments, and the successor agency, the Surface Transportation Board accomplishes this today.

Unlike the other archaic and obsolete proposed amendments which I’m discussing in this article, there actually has been some discussion about finally closing the proposed Corwin Amendment.  In 2014, 152 years after the Maryland state government had ratified this proposed amendment, they rescinded their ratification.  There has been no further mention of finally closing out this proposed amendment since 2014.

The Child Labor Amendment:

The issues which the proposed Child Labor Amendment (June, 1924) are very relevant in the 21st century, however all of the issues regarding child labor in the U.S. were effectively solved in 1938 with the Fair Labor Standards Act.  People do still attempt to violate child labor laws, and they do still get into enormous legal trouble for doing so.  A recent case in which a group of Mormons in Mohave County, Arizona were using very young children to harvest nuts shows that the 1938 law still works very effectively to address the issues of today’s world.  Landowners in many states do still use undocumented laborers to harvest their crops, and some of these workers are quite young.  However, the Constitution Of The United States Of America is intended to protect the rights of American citizens- undocumented aliens do not have the same protections here.  People can get into a lot of legal trouble for hiring undocumented workers, but many times the workers will never complain because they’d rather work for very low wages here than risk deportation.  This is a very serious issue, but no Federal legislation can effectively address this issue.  Legal issues regarding the rights of foreign citizens falls under the authority of international law, domestic law regarding the hiring of underage undocumented migrants can only fine or imprison the people who are hiring them, domestic laws cannot protect the employment rights of undocumented foreign citizens.

Ratifying the 1924 amendment would make sense if the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act had not been passed; now the 1924 amendment would be repetitive, and hence unnecessary.  So, why in 2016 is its status still officially “pending?”

Don’t Our Congressmen And Our Congresswomen Have More Pressing Concerns To Attend To In 2016?

Yes.  Yes, they certainly do.  Quite a few in fact, and that’s actually precisely my point here.  They’ve had quite a few more pressing concerns to attend to since September of 1789, since May of 1810, since March of 1861, and the members of both houses of Congress have had quite a few more pressing issues that they’ve had to pay close attention to since June of 1924.  Which is precisely the reason that the status of these four amendments that I’ve discussed here is still officially “pending” as of the summer of 2016.

And because Congress never wants to actually agree to opt to finally close these out, they never do.  Which is why they may probably remain officially “pending” for another 100 years if no one decides that it’s time to close these.

However, unlike many of the other issues that our Senate and our House Of Representatives will be addressing this year (or any other year), the decision to finally close out these four archaic and obsolete amendments would be impressively simple to do.  This would probably take less time and less debate than almost any other issue in American history in fact.  As I’ve mentioned, the proposed Titles Of Nobility act makes no sense at all in today’s world.  The issues involved in the proposed Congressional Apportionment Amendment have all been very effectively addressed in the reapportionment legislation of 1913 and 1929.  The issues involved in the proposed Child Labor Amendment are very relevant to today’s world, but this has already been addressed in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.  It would probably take no more than one (1) hour for each house of Congress to debate closing out each of these amendments, and then they would turn the decision over to the other house.  If instead, Congress decides that the decision as to whether or not to finally officially close out these archaic proposed amendments should be accomplished by our state governments, that would also be impressively easy, painless and could be accomplished notably quickly.  Absolutely nobody anywhere within our Federal government or in any of our state governments has anything whatsoever to gain by leaving the official status of these four archaic amendments as “pending” as opposed to “closed.”

To Be Entirely Honest, This Is 2016 Now, So Who Cares?

Since 1945, we’ve held one of the 5 permanent seats on the UN Security Council.  In other regions of the world where rogue regimes, militias rule or unstable regions where no one rules, and regions teeter on the brink of anarchy, we want to try to show people who live in unstable regimes in other parts of the world that they can work to establish national governments which function to address the issues of today’s world.  We need to have a government here which others can look at and view as something that can be taken seriously- that’s called leading by example.

If I learned that any other country in the world still had legislation which has been pending for more than 200 years, I’d wonder what their politicians were thinking- even if those are nothing more than vestigial relics from other centuries.  And as vestigial relics from earlier centuries, we just might want to consider closing these out now in the 21st century.  It’s not the issues themselves which are addressed in these four archaic amendments that I’ve been discussing that would make our government and our legal system look so laughable, it’s how many decades (or centuries) that their official legal status has been “pending” now.

Our legal system is closely scrutinized throughout the entire world now.  Our legal system is studied in universities throughout the world, in courses which compare legal systems.  And because we’re involved in so many conflicts throughout the world, people in the countries that our troops are sent to are curious to learn more about the government that is sending them.

I mentioned in a previous article that I wrote about the local city, town, village, county and state “blue laws” which still exist throughout the U.S., it becomes more difficult to view a legislative system or legal code as something that is easy to take seriously when it has not been purged of obsolete and archaic laws that still exist only because they are so obscure that politicians have forgotten that they even exist to begin with.

Likewise, it becomes more difficult to view a legislative system or legal code as something that is easy to take seriously when we still have two legislative acts that has been pending since the 19th century as well as one which has been pending since the end of the 18th century.  If I’d learned that any other country in the entire world has  a proposed amendment to their national constitution which has been officially pending now for 227 years, one which has been pending for 206 years, one which has been officially pending 155 years as well as one which has been pending for 92 years, I’d likely decide that their government seems pretty much like an absolute and total complete joke- and yet somehow because this is the United States Of America, people both in the U.S. as well as overseas seem to feel that this somehow makes complete and total sense within our government and within our culture?

Scott Benowitz is a staff writer for Afterimage Review. He holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from The London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from Reed...

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