THE FLEXIBLE CONSTITUTION
The Founding Fathers knew that they could not possibly predict how our country would grow and change. Remember,
the Constitution is a plan for government, and as you know, sometimes the plan has to change.
In 1787 there were only thirteen states and 4 million people. Today, there are 50 states and 260 million people, and
the Constitution still works.
There were no:
· Televisions or radios
· Computers (or internet)
The delegates at the Constitutional Convention wanted to make a document that would last well into the future, so they
made it easy to AMEND (change). That is why it is called a “living document”, because it can change just like the
people that it governs.
HOW TO CHANGE THE CONSTITUTION:
There are three ways:
1. The Amendment Process – A written change to the Constitution
2. Interpretation of the Constitution – A new way of looking at the existing words. INTERPRETATION
(understanding the meaning or intent).
3. Custom – Doing something a certain way because of tradition.
THE AMENDMENT PROCESS
Article 5 explains how to amend the Constitution. Only 27 amendments have been passed since 1789. THIS IS NOT
AN EASY PROCESS, Congress, and ¾ of the states must approve (vote for) the amendment.
1. PROPOSING THE AMENDMENT:
There are two methods:
a) 2/3 of both houses of Congress must vote “yes”. It then is passed to the states (see number 2, “Ratifying the
2/3 of the state legislatures must ask for a Constitutional Convention to propose and amendment.
This is a “check” on Congress, but it has never been used successfully.
2. RATIFYING THE AMENDMENT:
¾ (38) states must RATIFY (approve) the amendment. There are two ways for an amendment to be ratified:
a) The state legislatures must vote for the amendment. This is the most common way.
b) The people of each state elect DELEGATES (elected representatives) to a state convention, who must vote for
After it is ratified, it becomes a part of the Constitution.
Suppose we decide to REPEAL (cancel) an amendment?
The only way to repeal an amendment is to pass a NEW amendment canceling it.
The 18th Amendment, commonly known as “Prohibition” outlawed the production, sale, and consumption of alcohol in
the United States. It passed in 1919.
Americans hated Prohibition, and in 1933, the 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st Amendment, making alcohol
INTERPRETING THE CONSTITUTION
Congress may look at the Constitution, and INTERPRET (figure out) that it means one thing or another.
The Supreme Court will decide if the Congress interpreted the law correctly.
CUSTOM AND TRADITION
Things not written down anywhere, like “an unwritten rule”. The President’s CABINET (a group of special advisors) are
a good example, and are part of what is called “the Unwritten Constitution”.
Therefore, the Constitution is not easy to change, but it can be done according to a specific set of rules. That is why it
is sometimes called ‘THE ELASTIC CONSTITUTION”.