How is the constitutional principle of federalism reflected in the formal amendment process?
Most people who have a rudimentary knowledge of our government understand that amendments are proposed in Congress and ratified (or not ratified) by the states. However, many do not know that it is also possible for the states to propose a constitutional amendment. This can be done if two-thirds of the state legislatures call for a constitutional convention. However, to date this has never been done.
Some proposed amendments have been subjected to a time limit of seven years to achieve ratification, while others (primarily the earlier proposed amendments) have lingered through the ratification process for decades.
The amendment process is anything but easy. The founding fathers wanted to make sure that amendments would be carefully considered and debated in all corners of the nation. Considering how much change has taken place since the first ten amendments (the Bill of Rights) were passed in 1791, there have been relatively few amendments in the last 223 years. In fact, only 19 of some 10,000 proposed amendments have actually made it successfully through the entire process and become part of the United States Constitution.
The concept of federalism is seen in the process of amending the Constitution. Federalism refers to the idea that power is shared between the state government and the federal government. There are some powers the federal government has. There are some powers the state governments have. There are some powers shared by both the federal government and the state governments. This is seen clearly in the amendment process.
While there are two formal ways to amend the Constitution, all 27 amendments have followed the same path. This path requires two-thirds of both houses of Congress to propose a change to the Constitution. The proposed amendment then goes to the state legislatures. Three-fourths of the state legislatures must approve the amendment suggested by Congress in order for it to take effect. In this situation, the amendment starts at the federal level with Congress suggesting a change. It then goes to the state level to approve the suggested change where a vote of the state legislature will need to take place.
The idea of federalism is clearly seen in the amendment process.
Federalism is a form of government in which power is divided between the national government and lower-level governments (typically called states or provinces). Neither level of government can simply dictate to the other; they each have powers that are given to them. In other words, it is a system in which both states and the national government are important.
This system is reflected in the procedure that is set out for adding amendments to the Constitution of the United States. In that process, the national government has a part because it is Congress that has proposed all of the amendments that have been proposed to date. (There is a process by which the states call a convention, but this has never been used.) Once an amendment has been proposed, the states have the power. An amendment has to be approved by legislatures or conventions in ¾ of the states of the Union. This is how the states play a part in amending the Constitution.
Thus, federalism is displayed in this process because both the federal government and the state governments have a part to play.