Does the Constitution Require Constitutional Amendments to be Presented to the President?

Akhil Amar emails to note a pertinent discussion of the issue from his book America’s Constitution: A Biography:

In the 1798 case of Hollingsworth v. Virginia, 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 378, the Court endorsed the permissibility of the practice that had already taken root, under which proposed amendments were not submitted to the president for his signature or veto.  Two main theories have been offered to support this result.  Some have argued that the two-thirds rule of Article V should be read as creating an implied exception to the usual rule of presentment set forth in Article I, section 7.  On this view, since any proposed amendment has already achieved a two-thirds vote of each house, presentment is unnecessary.  Others have argued, more directly, that Article V created its own separate higher-lawmaking track above and beyond the presentment clause rules for ordinary Article I lawmaking.  On this view, Article V did not envisage any role for a presidential signature or veto in the case of an amendment proposal emerging from a duly called proposing convention; and an amendment proposal made by Congress should stand on the same footing.  In 1861, James Buchanan added his name to the Corwin Amendment (which was never ratified), and four years later Abraham Lincoln appended his own signature to the Thirteenth Amendment.  On February 7, 1865, the Senate resolved that Lincoln’s signature had been unnecessary and “should not constitute a precedent for the future.”

Apart from the history, one question is whether the original meaning supports this practice.  Although I have written several articles on Article V — e.g. see here, here, and here — I have not studied this issue at length.  Still, my take is that presentment is required, although I prefer the Constitution without that requirement.

First, Article I, section 7, clause 3 appears to make clear that the proposed constitutional amendments must be presented to the President.  It says

Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.

Certainly a proposed constitutional amendment is a vote “to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary.”  For a different view, see here.

Second, I don’t see anything in Article V that would lead to an exception.  Structurally, the requirement that a proposed amendment receive a two thirds vote does cause one some pause.  But requiring the Congress to re-pass a vetoed amendment by two thirds is not purposeless — sometimes members of Congress change their votes in response to a presidential veto.   If there were some ambiguity in these provisions, then this structural argument might persuade me, but I don’t really see an ambiguity.

One possible way of finding an ambiguity would be if the terms bill order, resolution, or vote had limited meanings that did not cover proposed constitutional amendments.  But I doubt it.

Mike Rappaport

Professor Rappaport is Darling Foundation Professor of Law at the University of San Diego, where he also serves as the Director of the Center for the Study of Constitutional Originalism. Professor Rappaport is the author of numerous law review articles in journals such as the Yale Law Journal, the Virginia Law Review, the Georgetown Law Review, and the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. His book, Originalism and the Good Constitution, which is co-authored with John McGinnis, was published by the Harvard University Press in 2013.  Professor Rappaport is a graduate of the Yale Law School, where he received a JD and a DCL (Law and Political Theory).

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  1. Andrew says

    I’m not sure where I’d come down on this as an original matter, but the Constitution is sufficiently ambiguous on this point that it seems best to stick with the centuries-old precedent of Hollingsworth. The words “order, resolution, or vote” conspicuously do not include the word “PROPOSAL” which appears in Article V. More importantly, Article V says, “The Congress, WHENEVER two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments….” (emphasis added). If the initial two-thirds majority of both Houses exists, then at that instantaneous moment Article V arguably authorizes the proposal to be made to the states. If ever there was a time to invoke stare decisis, this would be it.

  2. Andrew says

    Well, it’s been nice visiting this blog. I’ve had it bookmarked for a few months, and have commented a few times. But there’s rarely any response, or acknowledgment, or any indication that the comments have been read. If someone reads this, don’t prove me wrong by responding! :-) Anyway, fare thee well.

  3. says

    Since Amendments (through Congress) require a 2/3 majority in each House, and this is already the number sufficient for an override of a Veto, perhaps presenting to the President is simply irrelevant either way.

  4. Billy Joe Bob says

    March 16, 1861 letters of transmittal were sent over president Lincoln’s signature to the state governors, introducing to them the Corwin Amendment.
    President Buchanan had signed the joint proposal by Congress of the Corwin Amendment.
    President Lincoln expressed his approval of the proposed Amendment, though only as a measure to influence the Confederate States to revoke their secession and to return to the United States. He was personally opposed to slavery but believed that restoring the Union was of paramount importance.

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