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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.