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Tag: supreme court

Records of Rights Vote: “Old Enough to Fight, Old Enough to Vote”

Cast your vote for the 26th Amendment to be displayed first in the new “Records of Rights” gallery. Polls close on November 15!

Congress can move quickly. The 26th Amendment was ratified in 100 days, faster than any other amendment.

In April 1970, Congress controversially lowered the voting age to 18 as part of legislation to extend the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Many people, including President Richard Nixon, believed that it was the right of the states, not the federal government, to set the voting age. President Nixon, nevertheless, signed the act, which was to go into effect January 1, 1971.

The effort to lower the voting age to 18 had begun three decades earlier. “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote,” a slogan first heard during World War II, was adopted by student activists during the Vietnam War.

In 1942, the slogan prompted Congressman Jennings Randolph of West Virginia to propose an amendment to the Constitution lowering the voting age to 18. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson both championed the cause. Activists during the Vietnam War increased pressure on Congress to change the voting age, and in 1971, when Senator Randolph reintroduced his original proposal, it passed overwhelmingly.

On December 21, 1970, the Supreme Court ruled that the government had indeed overstepped its legislative bounds in lowering … [ Read all ]

Amending the Constitution: 100 Days to 200 Years

The Constitution hasn’t changed much since it was adopted in 1787.

However, it has been tweaked by 27 amendments—some were ratified in a few months, another took more than two centuries.

The ink on the Constitution had barely dried in 1787 when people discovered what it did not say. It did not spell out adequately, they argued, the individual rights that citizens of the United States had under the Constitution.

So James Madison, the “father of the Constitution” and a member of the House of Representatives from Virginia, went to work.

The result: 12 amendments. They were approved by Congress in late 1789 and sent to the 13 states for ratification, which, then as now under the Constitution, required three-quarters of the state legislatures or constitutional conventions.

Twelve? Yes, but only ten (originally numbers three through 12), known to us all today as the Bill of Rights, were approved. It took 811 days to ratify those ten, and they became part of the Constitution on December 15, 1791. Each December 15, we observe Bill of Rights Day.

The proposed first amendment, dealing with congressional apportionment, has never been ratified. The proposed second amendment, dealing with congressional pay, was approved by the Michigan and New Jersey legislatures on the same day in 1992—more than 202 years after Congress submitted it to the 13 states. By 1992, … [ Read all ]

Eight myths about the Constitution

Constitution Day is September 17. We’ve got events, programs, and activities at National Archives locations across the United States.

Pundits, candidates, and party activists like to cite the Constitution of the United States as the moral and legal backing for whatever they’re proposing. Or they say that something an opponent proposes is unconstitutional.

But the Constitution is silent on a lot of things you probably thought it said. Here are eight examples.

The President can veto a proposed amendment to the Constitution.

No. He has nothing to do with the amendments. Congress can propose an amendment with a two-thirds vote of both houses, or a Constitutional Convention can be called by a vote of two-thirds of the state legislatures. However, once the amendment is proposed either by Congress or a convention, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.

Only one amendment, the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition (the 18th Amendment), was ratified by conventions in the states.

The “Founding Fathers” who wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776 are the same men who wrote the Constitution in 1787.

Only five individuals signed both of these two founding documents. They were George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, George Read, and Roger Sherman. Some of the famous signers of the Declaration were elsewhere when the Constitution was being written. Thomas Jefferson was in France … [ Read all ]

160,000 pages to go

Whenever a member of the Supreme Court announces retirement, and another citizen is nominated to replace one of the most important seats in government, the National Archives gets busy. The nomination of Elena Kagan is no exception.

The Clinton Presidential Library has over 160,000 pages of Kagan’s documents to sort through and provide to the Senate for confirmation. Only 5,032 pages were released by the Clinton Library for Sonia Sotomayor.

Kagan served as the Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council under President Clinton.

Documents for review weren’t always so easy to get a hold of.

The Presidential Libraries Act of 1951 put the library system under the supervision of the National Archives, but the Presidential Records Act of 1978 “changed the legal ownership of the official records of the President and Vice President from private to public” (Prologue Winter 2008) following the contentious privacy issues surrounding Nixon’s papers.

These days, as each presidency ends, print and electronic records are immediately taken from the White House into the custody of the National Archives. According to this Prologue article, “The Clinton move was the largest one ever, involving approximately 75 million pages, approximately 75,000 artifacts, and millions of audiovisual materials.”

However, the PRA act of 1978 also meant that “records withdrawn under the statutes … [ Read all ]