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Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Zombie Amendments

At NPR, Ronald Elving writes of the "zombie amendments," proposed constitutional amendments that never won ratification by 3/4 of the states but, because they have no expiration date, are not exactly dead.
1. The oldest is the Titles of Nobility Amendment, first sent to the states in 1810 on the verge of the second war with Great Britain (to be known as the War of 1812). It provided that any American citizen who accepted or received any title of nobility from a foreign power (or accepted any gift from such a power without the consent of Congress) would forfeit his or her American citizenship.
This amendment came close to ratification, with a dozen states giving thumbs-up within two years. But there were 17 states as of 1803, so the Anti-Title Amendment fell short. No states have since joined in, but in the absence of an expiration clause, this amendment remains technically available.
The next of the zombies had a far shorter interval of viability but conjures a moment of maximum tension in U.S. history.
2. It was known as the Corwin Amendment after the Ohio congressman who proposed it, but it has been remembered as the Slavery Amendment.
Passed by Congress in 1861, on the eve of the Civil War, the Slavery Amendment sought to halt the secession movement by guaranteeing the federal government would not abolish slavery or otherwise interfere with the "domestic institutions of any state, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State."
It came too late to appease the seceding states, which would eventually number 11. But it was ratified by two of the slave-holding states that did not leave the Union. Needless to say, interest in this measure was superseded by the 1865 passage and ratification of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude. But technically, the Slavery Amendment has never expired and remains outstanding.
3. The latest of this group of still-pending amendments is the Child Labor Amendment, granting the Congress power to regulate the labor of children under the age of 18. It was ratified by 28 states, far short of the 36 required at the time. The last state to ratify did so in 1937, nearly a decade after Congress had passed this amendment, but none has signed on since, largely because other laws enacted since (principally the Fair Labor Standards Act) have accomplished much of the amendment's intent.
The Titles of Nobility Amendment reads as follows:
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America
in Congress assembled (two-thirds of both Houses concurring), That the following section be submitted to the legislatures of the several states, which, when ratified by the
legislatures of three fourths of the states, shall be valid and binding, as a part of the
constitution of the United States.
If any citizen of the United States shall accept, claim, receive or retain any title of
nobility or honour, or shall, without the consent of Congress, accept and retain any
present, pension, office or emolument of any kind whatever, from any emperor, king,
prince or foreign power, such person shall cease to be a citizen of the United States,
and shall be incapable of holding any office of trust or profit under them, or either of