In June 2011, Roy Moore suggested on a radio show that getting rid of constitutional amendments after the Tenth would solve many issues in the way the US government is structured.
“That would eliminate many problems,” Moore said after one of the hosts of the “Aroostook Watchmen” suggested it. “You know people don’t understand how some of these amendments have completely tried to wreck the form of government that our forefathers intended.”
Moore singled out the 17th Amendment, according to an audio file obtained by CNN’s KFile, which calls for the direct election of US Senators. (A complaint he mentioned on Sunday during an unrelated interview ahead of Tuesday’s special Senate election on Alabama.) He also took issue with the 14th Amendment, which was passed after the Civil War and guarantees citizenship, equal rights and protection under the law to former slaves, claiming it put undue restrictions on the states.
“Once again, the media is taking a discussion about the overall framework for the separation of powers as laid out in the constitution to twist Roy Moore’s position on specific issues,” Moore campaign spokesman Brett Doster told KFile. “Roy Moore does not now nor has he ever favored limiting an individual’s right to vote, and as a judge, he was noted for his fairness and for being a champion of civil rights.”
Friday will mark 226 years since the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments) was ratified. In the meantime, Congress and the states added 17 more, though one, the 21st, undid another, the 18th. If you were to wipe them all off the books, the country would be fundamentally changed.
We might have President Donald Trump and Vice President Hillary Clinton
The 12th amendment (1804) was basically a tune-up to the electoral college, which wasn’t originally designed to properly account for political parties (as it related to governing outcomes).
One weird side effect: Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson finished second in the 1796 election to the Federalist John Adams. But because of the law then, Jefferson became vice president. The amendment made sure, among other things, that running mates won and lost together.
Slavery would not have been outlawed (in 1865)
The 13th amendment (1865) outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude (“except as a punishment for crime”). The Emancipation Proclamation was great, but the end of slavery was definitely something that needed to be in the country’s most serious writing.
It was ratified on December 6, 1865, a little more than 10 months after it passed in the House of Representatives. The Civil War came to an end about halfway between the two steps. Here’s how The New York Times described the scene in the House:
“When the presiding officer announced that the resolution was agreed to by yeas 119, nays 56, the enthusiasm of all present, save a few disappointed politicians, knew no bounds, and for several moments the scene was grand and impressive beyond description. No attempt was made to suppress the applause which came from all sides, every one feeling that the occasion justified the fullest expression of approbation and joy.”
The states could freely make laws to undo core federal rights
The 14th amendment (1868) sets out the fundamental rights of Americans and calls for proportional representation in Congress. (Note: at the time, much of this only applied to “male inhabitants.”) It also forbade the states from making laws that might violate these promises. It played a major role in the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision.
Here’s the key passage:
“No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Race could be a legal bar to voting
The last of the Reconstruction amendments, the 15th amendment (1870) gave all men the right to vote, notably including all freed slaves:
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
There’d be no fight over the Republican tax plan…
…because there would be no federal income taxes. The 16th amendment (1913) gave the federal government the right to collect an income tax, setting off more than a century of arguments about how it should work, who should pay what and how.
“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states and without regard to any census or enumeration.”
There’d be a very different fight over who’s going to be the next senator from Alabama
Some more power to the people. The 17th amendment (1913) made the election of US Senators a direct question for the voting public. They had previously been chosen by state legislatures, a system that became full of bribery and extended vacancies.
“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote.”
There would have never been Prohibition (and all that came with it)
The 18th amendment (1919), which would be wiped out a little more than a dozen years later by the 21st amendment (1933), set the stage for the great American booze ban. Prohibition, which began in 1920 and was repealed in 1933, was conceived of mostly as a response to saloon culture, and the violence that followed, but ended up giving rise to a massive black market, and the mafia.
How it began: “…the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.”
And how it ended: “The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.”
Women could not vote
The 19th amendment (1920) was ratified on August 18, 1920. Not even a hundred years ago. Its language is simple. The fight to guarantee the rights was long and brutal. The Equal Rights Amendment, which would guarantee Constitutional rights apply equally to everyone regardless of sex, was three states short of ratification in 1982.
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
We’d be arguing over when to hold Inauguration Day every four years
The 20th amendment (1933) reads more like some constitutional housekeeping. Given the politics of today, though, it’s an important clarification. It sets out January 20 as the day one president gives way to the next and January 3 for the congressional switchover. (It also creates a succession protocol for when and if a president-elect dies before taking office.) There’s a bunch more, but here’s the thing you actually notice:
“The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the twentieth day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the third day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.”
Obama could have run against Trump in 2016
If not for the 22nd amendment (1955) (we already did the 21st!), former President Barack Obama might’ve had the chance to defend his office against Trump. Ratified in 1951, the amendment put term limits into place for presidents – meaning no more than two terms in the White House, with a minor caveat that would have allowed, for instance, Lyndon Johnson to run again in 1968 if he so chose.
“No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.”
The people of Washington, D.C., would have even less representation in federal government
The 23rd amendment (1961) gave the district its own presidential electors, as if it were a regular old state. They’re still waiting on some Senators or members in the House (who can vote on actual legislation). Read the last part below. Really rubs it in.
“The district constituting the seat of government of the United States shall appoint, in such manner as the Congress may direct, a number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the district would be entitled if it were a state…”
People could be legally compelled to pay for the right to vote
The 24th amendment (1964) is actually a more expansive and important protection than it might seem at a glance.
It banned the “poll tax,” which was initially created to – wait for it – make it easier to vote. You didn’t need to own land, just be able to pay a modest tab. But that changed over time, as the poll tax was used as an end-run on the 15th amendment to restrict the franchise – particularly down south. The amendment is now also used to argue against efforts to create de facto expenses or taxes, like mandating voter ID and then charging people for the required document.
Here’s the text: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”
We’d have to debate, without any real guidance, about the line of presidential succession
As this National Constitution Center blog post explains, “Technically, the Constitution never spelled out how a Vice President would become President if a President died, resigned or was unable to perform the office’s duty.”
Even weirder: The custom was established by John Tyler, who as vice president took over after the elected president, William Henry Harrison, died. He did it pretty much by claiming the office and then arguing his way past anyone who challenged him.
The 25th amendment (1967), passed with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in mind, answered that question in more formal terms. It also gives some vague instructions about how to boot a president who is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
The important part, for the time being: “In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.”
American soldiers in combat might not be able to vote
Before July 1971, Americans old enough to be drafted to fight in the Vietnam War were often too young to vote in elections. The 26th amendment (1971) fixed that, lowering the age from 21 to 18 years old.
“The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of age.”
Congress could be voting itself a big ol’ pay hike right now, effective immediately
But they aren’t, and cannot, because of the 27th – and final! for now! – amendment (1992). Ratified in 1992, it means that House members would have to answer to the voters for any uptick in salary they might award themselves.
“No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”