According to the Constitution, an amendment may be proposed by Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the state legislatures.... An amendment that has been approved by three-fourths of the states becomes part of the Constitution.
In the first case, a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress is required to propose an amendment. Before it may become a part of the Constitution, the recommended amendment must be adopted by a majority vote in the legislatures or conventions of three-fourths of the states. If any state rejects the amendment, it cannot be ratified.
The second case involves a different process called "amendment by convention." A convention for proposing amendments can be called by Congress or by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states. The only limit on this power is that such a convention cannot operate outside the United States government structure: it can only amend the Constitution. No state can block an amendment proposal at this stage because the requirement for ratification by three-fourths of the states has been met. Instead, the state legislature can decide what role it wants to play with regard to amendments. For example, some state legislatures may not want to commit themselves indefinitely to considering any proposed amendment that comes before them.
This process can only be used by a state during a civil war or similar conflict where one nation is fighting another nation's forces within its own borders. During these periods of unrest, groups within the opposition nation can call for an amendment ceremony to declare their country's allegiance to certain principles above and beyond the Constitution itself.
Amendments may be suggested by the Congress, by a two-thirds vote on a joint resolution, or by a convention convened by the Congress in response to petitions from two-thirds of the state legislatures. The Constitution provides that "on the first day of January, in every year," the Senate shall meet and consider amendments proposed by itself or the House. If an amendment is approved by the Senate, it must then be submitted to the states for ratification.
The Congress can initiate its own amendment process. For example, Congress could pass a law requiring its members to submit any amendments that come before the House and Senate for approval. Or Congress could wait for the states to propose amendments and act on those proposals. The Congress has not initiated its own amendment process since the Twenty-first Amendment abolished Prohibition. However, because several amendments have been adopted through the congressional review procedure over the years, that body has become familiar with that method of proposing changes to the Constitution.
In addition to proposing laws and amendments, the Congress plays an important role in resolving constitutional issues before them. For example, if the Supreme Court rules on a case involving federal authority under the Commerce Clause, the Congress could modify the clause by passing legislation implementing a different interpretation of it.
Finally, the Congress has the power to impeach officials who violate their oaths of office or otherwise act inappropriately.
If a proposed constitutional amendment is passed by a two-thirds vote in both chambers, Congress may send it to the states. On the request of two-thirds of the state legislatures, Congress must convene a convention to propose changes (i.e., 34 of 50 states). The amendment then has to be approved by three-fourths of all state legislatures before it goes into effect.
The last time this amendment process was used was with the Twenty-first Amendment, which repealed prohibition. Before that, there were several other amendments through the amendment process.
The Constitution can be changed only through the amendment process. There are two ways to do this: by national convention or through state conventions called for by two-thirds votes of their respective legislatures.
At any time, four million Americans are eligible to serve on juries. Yet only 6 percent of those jurors are black, even though blacks make up 13 percent of the population. Why is this so? Race plays a factor in jury selection. Traditionally, jury pools have been drawn from voter lists, which are compiled based on where people live not what they look like. Thus, racial minorities tend to be underrepresented on juries because they are concentrated in poor neighborhoods where the police don't like to go.
To even be suggested, an amendment must get two-thirds support in both chambers of Congress, or a request from two-thirds of state legislatures to call a national convention, and that's just the beginning. The amendment then has to be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
An amendment can only address one subject matter -- here defined as a single issue or topic for which there is no other adequate legal remedy -- and can only apply to the federal government or another particular body. It can't simply change the way things are done throughout all of American life. An example of such a broad subject is the first amendment's prohibition on religious discrimination. Another example is the ninth amendment's call for equal rights for women. Yet more specific amendments have addressed issues such as slavery (fourth amendment) and abortion (eightth amendment).
Amendments have been used to great effect when necessary to amend the Constitution. The most well-known example is the twenty-first amendment, which repealed prohibition. But they have also been used inappropriately, as with the fourteenth amendment, which granted citizenship to former slaves and their descendants. A fifth amendment protection against self-incrimination would also be appropriate, but it was proposed back in 1791 and never became effective because of problems with the means by which evidence was obtained at trial at the time.