Vail Law: Part Seven of this guide to the Constitution |

Vail Law: Part Seven of this guide to the Constitution

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO, Colorado

In this final part in our series on the United States Constitution, we begin with the Nineteenth Amendment, which grants nationwide “suffrage” to women.

“Suffrage” is, simply, the right to vote. While 17 states and territories had granted women the right to vote, the Nineteenth extended that right to all women in in 1920.

The Twentieth Amendment consists of six sections. The first mandates that the presidential and vice-presidential terms shall end at noon on Jan. 20 in the years that the terms are scheduled to end. It dictates, too, that senatorial terms, and the terms of Representatives shall end Jan. 3. Successors shall immediately take office.

Section two of the Twentieth provides that the Congress shall convene once a year, commencing at noon Jan. 3. Section three provides for vice presidential succession to the presidency if, at the time fixed for beginning the term of the President, the President-elect shall have died. It provides, too, that if a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of a presidential term (think the 2000 Florida debacle here), then the Vice-President elect shall act as President until a President has been qualified.

Section four has to do with Congressional authority to pass laws of succession in the event of the death of certain elected officials. Sections five and six are largely housekeeping provisions.

The Twenty-First Amendment, adopted in 1933, repealed prohibition, established 13 years earlier by the Eighteenth Amendment.

The Twenty-Second Amendment provides that a President may not serve more than two terms. Adopted in 1947, subsequent to the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died after commencing his fourth term, the Amendment bars a person from serving more than two terms, whether consecutive or not. Of course, one may “inherit” the partial term of another (if, for example the prior President dies or is removed from office) and still serve two terms of his own; provided, however, that if the “inherited” term served was more than two years in length, then the successor may only serve only one additional term of his own.

The Twenty-Third Amendment grants citizens of the District of Columbia the right to vote in presidential contests and establishes electors for such purpose.

Passed in 1964, the Twenty-Fourth Amendment prohibits levying poll taxes in federal elections. The Amendment was passed as part of various voting rights acts largely meant to enfranchise black and other minority participation in elections.

The Twenty-Fifth Amendment consists of four Sections, all of which deal with procedures to be followed in the event of the President’s death or disability.

The Twenty-Sixth Amendment, adopted by the states in 1971, lowered the voting age to 18.

Referred to the state legislatures in 1789, at the same time as those proposals that eventually became the Bill of Rights, the Twenty-Seventh Amendment, concerning congressional pay limitations, had long been assumed to be dead. The first state to ratify the measure was Maryland in 1791 but the Amendment did not gain the necessary three-fourths vote of the separate states until 1992, when New Jersey voted in favor of ratification.

This Amendment has caused considerable legal squabbling, primarily whether the 202 years taken for ratification created any controversies for its adoption. Indeed, in Dillon v. Gloss, 256 U.S. 368, 375 (1921), the Court, observed that, unless the inference was drawn that ratification must occur within some reasonable time of proposal, ultimate ratification was sufficient. Accordingly, the Twenty-Seventh Amendment appears to be a part of the Constitution although, owing to the years intervening from its introduction and the fact that what it is intended to command is already statutorily prescribed, and, if and when it is actually adopted, it will likely fail to have any significant effect.

There have been several amendments proposed to the states but not ratified. In recent years, there have been three: a proposed child-labor amendment, which was submitted to the states in 1924; the proposed equal rights amendment, which formally died on June 30, 1982; and a proposed amendment relating to representation in Congress for the District of Columbia.

So, there you have the Constitution from A to Z. In total it is a brief, inspired thing which owes its strength and its command to its very brevity and the scant exercise of extensions to its reach and breadth.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at

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