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6 Failed Amendments

May 6, 2016

It’s very difficult to amend the U.S. Constitution. A potential amendment has to pass both houses of Congress with two-thirds approval, and then it has to be approved by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states. Since 1787, only 27 amendments have been adopted. Numerous others have been proposed…and rejected. Here are some notable rejects.
Suggested amendments that never made it to the constitution


In 1875 President Ulysses S. Grant gave a speech endorsing the use of federal funds to establish public schools nationwide. Maine congressman James Blaine agreed with Grant, but not because he supported public education. He was against parochial schools—Catholic schools (and anything Catholic) in particular. This came on the tail of a large influx of immigrants from Ireland and Italy, two predominantly Catholic countries, and anti-Catholic sentiment in the U.S. was high. That same year, Blaine introduced a constitutional ban on the use of public funds for religious-based organizations. While that may sound like part of the debate over the separation of church and state, Blaine’s real goal was to prevent the Catholic Church from getting any tax money. (Ironically, Blaine actively sought the Catholic vote in his 1884 run for President of the United States, which he lost.)


Like many Americans in the early 1900s, Georgia representative Seaborn Roddenberry felt very strongly about racial integration— he was the leading Congressional advocate for segregation. After African-American boxer Jack Johnson married a white woman in 1912, a public scandal, Roddenberry introduced the Anti- Miscegenation Amendment, which would have made interracial marriage a federal crime.


Franklin Roosevelt was elected to four presidential terms—the Constitution set no limit on the number of terms a president could serve. Prior to that, all presidents had retired after two, a tradition started by George Washington. But Roosevelt and his sweeping program of social welfare were so hated by his Republican opposition that after he died in 1945 and Republicans gained control of Congress in 1947, they passed the 22nd Amendment, limiting the president to two terms. Since 1989, a repeal of that amendment has been proposed several times by members of Congress from both parties, as a way to continue the administrations of popular presidents.


It’s set forth in the early pages of the Constitution that anyone born within the borders of the United States is automatically a United States citizen—even if they are the child of illegal immigrants. In 2003 Florida Congressman Mark Foley proposed an amendment to the Constitution that would remove that stipulation. It died in committee. (Foley’s career died after he was accused of having sent sexually explicit instant messages to Congressional pages.)


The Constitution forbids foreign-born U.S. citizens from becoming president. This was to prevent anyone from the British empire from ever seizing control of the United States. In 2003 Utah Senator Orrin Hatch proposed the Equal Opportunity to Govern Amendment, which would have allowed any naturalized (foreignborn) American who’d been a legal citizen of the United States for at least 20 years to be president. It was widely seen as a way to eliminate roadblocks for California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (who was born in Austria) in case he ever wanted to run for the country’s highest office.


The Flag Desecration Amendment has popped up for votes frequently since 1968. It would give Congress authority to make it illegal to burn the American flag, an act currently protected as free speech under the First Amendment. Between 1995 and 2005, six different versions of the amendment were passed by the House of Representatives, but it couldn’t clear the Senate. In June 2006, the Senate voted 66–34 in favor of it…just one vote short of the two-thirds majority it needed to go on to ratification by the states.
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