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Monday, February 18, 2013

Mississippi Ratifies 13th Amendment! Who Cares?

In the last couple of days, a common fluff piece making the news rounds, just in time for Presidents Day, deals with the fact that the state of Mississippi finally ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. Or, to be accurate, they ratified it back in 1995, but since the appropriate documentation was never submitted to the proper federal authorities, that ratification was not "official".

While some may find it interesting that the movie "Lincoln" inspired a person, a recent immigrant from India no less, to research the 13th Amendment's ratification history only to discover that Mississippi had not yet officially ratified it, that state's ratification itself is, outside of its public relations value, absolutely meaningless.

Per Article V of the US Constitution, a proposed amendment to the Constitution becomes a part of that esteemed document when it has been ratified by three-fourths of the states. In other words, once the final state needed to put the amendment at (or over) three-fourths of the states ratifies the amendment (currently 38 out of 50), it becomes "the supreme Law of the Land". And once it has been adopted, and becomes the supreme law of the land, ALL of the states are subject to its terms, even those states that have not ratified it!

Accordingly, once Georgia became the 27th state to ratify the 13th Amendment (there being, at the time, 36 states), the Amendment was adopted and became a part of the Constitution. Even if the remaining nine states never took the step of officially ratifying the 13th Amendment, they would still be subject to its provisions.

I mean, if this is such big news, where is the outcry regarding the ratification status of the 24th Amendment? The 24th Amendment, the one prohibiting poll taxes in federal elections, has been ratified by no more than 42 states!*

[* According to The U.S. Constitution Online (http://www.usconstitution.net/), only 40 states have ratified it, whereas the Wikipedia entry on the 24th Amendment lists 42 states. The two states in dispute are Alabama and Texas. In the 2009 Regular Session of the Texas Legislature, House Joint Resolution 39 post-ratifying the 24th Amendment was passed by the House on May 4, passed by the Senate on May 22, reported enrolled on May 23, and filed with the Texas Secretary of State on May 26. Similarly, it appears that the Alabama Legislature passed HJR 14 ratifying the 24th Amendment during that legislature's 2002 Regular Session. However, the Proposal and Ratification notes following the text of the Amendment in the 2006 edition of the United States Code does not mention Alabama's ratification, nor are the ratifications of either Alabama or Texas mentioned in any of the Supplements. Therefore, it could be that these resolutions were never officially submitted to the US Archivist, much like Mississippi's forgotten post-ratification of the 13th Amendment.]

That means that at least eight states, including Mississippi, have not ratified the 24th Amendment! Why aren't we freaking out about that? Because their ratifications would be meaningless, except as PR stunts. Just because they haven't ratified the 24th Amendment, that doesn't mean they are somehow allowed to prevent citizens from voting in federal elections for failure to pay a poll tax. Because the requisite 38 states ratified it back in the 1960s, the remaining states are subject to its terms as well, making any "post-ratifications" superfluous at best.

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