Twenty-seventh Amendment (1992)

We can eradicate the aura of privilege that has hung over the chamber for two hundred years. James Madison saw something wrong with members of Congress increasing their own salaries, unchecked by their constituencies. Adoption of this much-delayed amendment to the Constitution will prevent a future Congress from raising its own pay until a recorded vote has been held and an election has intervened. This is progress, after 200 years of delay.

West Virginia Senator Jennings Randolph, the chief sponsor of the Twenty-sixth Amendment, in a Washington Post interview, October 14, 1984

What It Says

No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

Two Hundred Years: The Dates On Which States Ratified The Twenty Seventh Amendment
Maryland December 19, 1789
North Carolina December 22, 1789
South Carolina January 19, 1790
Delaware January 28, 1790
Vermont November 3, 1791
Virginia December 15, 1791
Ohio May 6, 1873
Wyoming March 6, 1978
Maine April 27, 1983
Colorado April 22, 1984
South Dakota February 21, 1985
New Hampshire March 7, 1985
Arizona April 3, 1985
Oklahoma July 10, 1985
New Mexico February 14, 1986
Indiana February 24, 1986
Utah February 25, 1986
Arkansas March 13, 1987
Montana March 17, 1987
Connecticut May 13, 1987
Wisconsin July 15, 1987
Georgia February 2, 1988
West Virginia March 10, 1988
Louisiana July 7, 1988
Iowa February 9, 1989
Idaho March 23, 1989
Nevada April 26, 1989
Alaska May 6, 1989
Oregon May 19, 1989
Minnesota May 22, 1989
Texas May 25, 1989
Kansas April 5, 1989
Florida May 31, 1990
North Dakota March 25, 1991
Alabama May 5, 1992
Michigan May 7, 1992
New Jersey May 7, 1992
Illinois May 12, 1992
Ratification was completed on May 7, 1992, when the thirty-eighth and thirty-ninth states approved the amendment, providing the three-quarters of the states necessary to add the amendment to the Constitution. The archivist of the United States declared the amendment valid on May 18, 1992.

What It Means

The Twenty-seventh Amendment prevents any congressional pay raise from going into effect until after the voters have been able to cast ballots in the next election, registering their approval or disapproval. With the voters in mind, legislators were likely to be more cautious about increasing their own salaries. James Madison introduced the Amendment in 1789 and it was sent to the states with the Bill of Rights. An insufficient number of states ratified it and the amendment lay dormant until 1982, when public outrage over a large boost in congressional salaries encouraged the states to revive the amendment. Unlike modern amendments, the Twenty-seventh had no time limit for ratification, so that some state legislatures ratified it more than two hundred years apart. In 1992, the Michigan state legislature passed the amendment, and it was finally ratified.

Congressional Salaries Prior to Ratification of the Twenty-Seventh Amendment
1789 $1,500
1817 $2,000
1855 $3,000
1865 $5,000
1871 $7,500
1874 $5,000*
1907 $7,500
1925 $10,000
1932 $9,000**
1933 $8,500
1934 $9,500
1935 $10,000
1947 $12,500
1955 $22,500
1965 $30,000
1969 $42,500
1975 $44,600
1977 $57,500
1979 $60,663
1983 $69,800
1984 $72,600
1985 $75,100
1987 $89,500
1990 Senate: $98,400
House: $96,600
1991 Senate: $101,900***
House: $125,100
1991 $125,100****
* After an unpopular increase known as the Salary Grab, Congress reduced its salary
** As an economic move during the Great Depression, government salaries were cut
*** The Senate chose not to raise its salary as high as the House, but allowed senators to accept hono­raria for giving speeches away from the Senate
**** The Senate raised its salary to the House level, but banned honoraria for outside activities

Twenty-Seventh Amendment TIMELINE

1789 – Congress sends the amendment to the states as part of the Bill of Rights

Congress sends the states twelve amendments to the Constitution, but only ten of the amendments—known as the Bill of Rights—are ratified. The two that are not adopted deal with congressional pay raises and the size of districts for the House of Representatives. The pay raise amendment is approved by only six of the eleven states needed for ratification, and rejected by five states.

1939 – Unless Congress sets a date for terminating ratification, amendments are valid

Under a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case of Coleman v. Miller, any proposed amendment for which Congress has not specified a ratification deadline remains in play. The Court says that states may continue to consider an amendment regardless of how long it has been since it was first proposed.

1978 – Wyoming revives the pay raise amendment

A century after the last state, Ohio, ratified the salary amendment, the Wyoming legislature adds its ratification. This act is part of a general dissatisfaction with the directions of the federal government on matters of taxing and spending expressed by western states in what became known as the Sagebrush Rebellion.

1982 – A student researches the issue

In 1982, while looking for a research paper topic, University of Texas graduate student Gregory Watson discovers that in addition to the ten amendments that became the Bill of Rights, there were two other amendments that the First Congress had proposed and submitted to the states for ratification. In a paper, he argues that those amendments, though not ratified at the time, are still viable because they do not contain a “sunset provision” limiting the time for ratification. His professor is not impressed with his argument and gives him a C on his paper. Convinced that the amendment is still pending, Watson then begins a campaign to lobby state legislatures to ratify the forgotten amendments. When Congress votes itself a large pay increase, the campaign gains momentum.

1992 – Michigan ratifies Twenty-Seventh Amendment

Between 1983 and 1992, thirty-three additional states ratify the pay raise amendment. On May 7, 1992, 203 years after its submission to the states, the Twenty-seventh Amendment is ratified with its passage by the Michigan State Legislature. The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives adopt concurrent resolutions agreeing that the Twenty-seventh Amendment has been validly ratified, despite the unorthodox lapse between its submission and completion.

2001 – Members of Congress are not harmed by pay increases

Representative Bob Schaffer and three others challenge the cost-of-living increases in the Ethics Reform Act of 1989, arguing that such automatic increases grant legislators raises before a new Congressional session begins. In Schaffer v. Clinton, the district court dismisses three of the plaintiffs (a state legislator, a taxpayer, and a voter), on the ground that they have no standing to bring the case. The court dismisses case finding that the cost-of-living raises accomplish the goal of the Twenty-seventh Amendment because they “eliminate the possibility that Congress will grant itself a new pay raise during its current session.” The court of appeals dismisses the appeal because Schaffer, by receiving the pay increase, has not suffered any real injury.