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This article is written by Vedant Singla of 1st Semester of Punjab School of Law, Punjabi University, Patiala, an intern under Legal Vidhiya


The 27th Amendment to the United States Constitution holds a distinct position in constitutional jurisprudence’s history. Originally proposed in 1789 as part of the initial Bill of Rights but it wasn’t ratified until 1992, making its adoption process the longest of any amendment. Its primary order is that any law altering the compensation for services of the senators and representatives shall not take effect until an election of representatives makes an intervention. In essence, this prohibits Congress from granting itself immediate pay raises. The amendment reflects a foundational concern about the potential for self-dealing among elected officials. The significance of the 27th Amendment lies not only in its content but also in the unique history of its ratification. While the immediate practical implications of the amendment may seem limited, its symbolic importance as a witness to its enduring principles of governance and the unpredictable path of constitutional change cannot be understated. Through this lens, the 27th Amendment serves as a reminder of the enduring nature of foundational democratic ideals and the evolving relationship between the citizens and its representatives. This article seeks to give an insight on the Significance of the 27th Amendment to the United States Constitution

Keywords: United States Constitution, 27th Amendment, Congress, Ratification, Accountability


The 27th Amendment to the United States Constitution is a distinct witness to the nation’s commitment to checks and balances. At its core, the amendment prohibits any law that increases or decreases the salary of members of Congress from taking effect until the start of the next set of terms of office for Representatives. This ensures that Congress cannot directly benefit from their own decisions on salary adjustments within the same term. Yet, what is truly interesting is that it sets the 27th Amendment apart from its unique ratification history. Originally proposed in 1789 by James Madison alongside other amendments that became the Bill of Rights, it was kept aside for over two centuries until 1992 that it finally achieved the necessary state ratifications to become a part of the Constitution. This prolonged journey from proposal to ratification, spanning 203 years, makes it the longest amendment process in U.S. history and underscores the evolving nature of constitutional interpretation and the enduring concerns about dealing matters regarding pay by elected officials.

Historical Context

The 27th Amendment which was ratified in 1992, prohibits any law that changes the compensation of members of Congress from taking effect until after the next election of representatives. The impulse behind this was to ensure that Congress couldn’t immediately benefit from their own decisions regarding pay raises or decreases, thereby maintaining a level of accountability to the electorate. The roots of the 27th Amendment trace back to its Founding Fathers. James Madison initially proposed it in 1789 as one of the original Bill of Rights amendments. The Founders were aware of a government where officials might get greedy by financial incentives at the cost of public interest. This concern was influenced by their experiences with the British monarchy and colonial governance, where power and wealth often had conflict. The original intent was to place a safeguard against potential congressional self-interest. However, only six states ratified it initially but 200 years later, a grassroot movement brought attention back to this inactive proposal, resulting in its ratification in 1992. It serves as a witness to the enduring values of checks and balances that the Founders championed[1].

Text of the Amendment

The 27th Amendment to the United States Constitution reads:

“No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

At its core, the 27th Amendment addresses the compensation or salary of members of Congress, which includes both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Amendment mandates that any change whether an increase or decrease to the compensation of these elected officials cannot take effect until after the next election of Representatives which occurs every two years. The straightforward intent behind this amendment is to prevent members of Congress from granting themselves immediate pay raises without any electoral accountability. By delaying the implementation of any salary change until after an election, it allows the American voters to rely on the proposed compensation changes through their voting choices. If the public disagrees with a pay adjustment, they have the opportunity to express their discontent by electing new representatives before the adjustment takes effect. In technical terms, the Amendment acts as a check on Congress’s power over its own compensation. By ensuring a time lag between the decision and its implementation, it upholds the principle of accountability in representative democracy, making sure that any financial decisions regarding their own salaries are in line with public sentiment and interest[2].


The 27th Amendment’s journey to ratification is a testament to the enduring nature of American constitutional principles. Originally proposed in 1789 by James Madison along with other amendments that would become the Bill of Rights, the 27th Amendment seemed to end the historical stoppage. Its core principle was straightforward that it prevented Congress from changing its own salaries during the current term. While many amendments found swift approval, this particular proposal lay inactive, largely forgotten as the nation underwent vast transformations in governance, territory and culture. Yet, the story of the 27th Amendment experienced a dramatic revival in the late 20th century. In the 1980s, amidst growing public dissatisfaction with political self-dealing, a grassroot movement brought this amendment back to the national discourse. University student Gregory Watson, after discovering the inactive amendment, initiated a campaign highlighting its relevance in an era which is sceptical of political self-interest. His efforts, combined with mounting public pressure, reignited interest in the amendment’s promise to check congressional power. By the 1990s, the momentum was unstoppable. State legislatures, responding to the popular will, began ratifying the amendment at an unprecedented pace. In 1992, more than two centuries after its initial proposal, the 27th Amendment was finally ratified, serving as a powerful reminder of the enduring nature of the Constitution and the ability of grassroots movements to effect significant change[3].

Significance of Amendment

The 27th Amendment to the United States Constitution holds unique significance as it underscores the principle of accountability within the government, particularly pertaining to the legislative branch. Ratified in 1992, though proposed as early as 1789, the amendment states that, “No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.” This ensures that members of Congress cannot immediately benefit from the pay adjustments they enact, making them accountable to the electorate before any changes take effect. By requiring an intervening election, the 27th Amendment deters potential abuses related to legislative pay adjustments. Without this safeguard, legislators might be tempted to arbitrarily increase their own salaries without facing immediate electoral consequences. The amendment’s stipulation ensures that any such decisions are made with an awareness that the public, through their voting power, will have a say on the matter before changes take place. This critical check on the power of Congress both reinforces the foundational American principle that those in power must be accountable to the people they represent and helps to prevent potential self-serving actions that could end public trust in democratic institutions.


The 27th Amendment stipulates that “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.” Essentially, it prevents Congress from giving itself pay raises without the voters having a say in the subsequent election.

Instances: Since its ratification in 1992, the amendment has had a quiet impact on Congressional behavior. Lawmakers are more cautious and transparent when discussing their compensation. In 1993, Congress tried to increase its pay and was met with public opposition, some argued the move was inconsistent with the spirit of the 27th Amendment, even if it technically compliant.

Effectiveness: The amendment has been reasonably effective in ensuring that Congress cannot immediately benefit from its pay decisions. While it doesn’t entirely eliminate the possibility of salary increases, it introduces a delay, ensuring accountability to the electorate. This has made many discussions about congressional pay hikes politically sensitive, leading to long periods without changes in compensation. However, critics argue that the amendment only addresses a small area of the broader issues surrounding congressional privileges and incentives.

In its spirit, while the 27th Amendment may not be frequently invoked, its presence has introduced a layer of accountability and scrutiny regarding Congressional pay decisions[4].


  1. Redundancy: Some critics argue that the 27th Amendment, which prevents any law increasing or decreasing the salary of members of Congress from taking effect until an election of representatives has intervened, is redundant. They claim that the voting public already acts as a natural check on congressional compensation, as politicians would be reluctant to raise their own pay for fear of backlash in the next election.
  2. Distraction: Distractors are also of the view that the Amendment distracts from more pressing issues. With so many other important concerns like healthcare, education and national defence, focusing on congressional pay can seem trivial in comparison.
  3. Limiting Flexibility: There’s a belief that the amendment restricts the ability of Congress to adjust their compensation in response to inflation or changing economic conditions, potentially making congressional service less attractive to qualified candidates over time.


  1. Accountability: The 27th Amendment ensures direct accountability. While the voting public might act as a check, the Amendment ensures that any potential pay changes are directly linked to electoral outcomes.
  2. Principle Over Immediate Concern: Although there might be pressing issues at any given time, it’s important to address principles of governance and checks and balances. The 27th Amendment serves as a reminder that public service isn’t meant for personal enrichment.
  3. Long-Term Vision: While critics argue it restricts flexibility, supporters argue that the amendment provides a vision for stability. Adjustments for inflation or other economic factors should be approached with caution and foresight, rather than as shock reactions.


The 27th Amendment holds great meaning in U.S. governance. It was first proposed in 1789. It became part of the original Bill of Rights amendments. Its ratification took over two centuries. This principle states that “No law should change the compensation for Senators’ or Representatives’ services until an election of Representatives has taken place”. The Amendment mandates this delay. This rule prevents self-interest from holding sway. It also ensures that Congress can’t instantly profit from its own salary decisions. The relevance of the 27th Amendment today is immeasurable. We live in a time when trust in politicians is not high. The amendment acts as a guard against possible self-dealing in Congress. Today’s issues may be more complicated than Congressional pay but it was necessary at the point of time when it was ratified in my opinion. Still the Amendment stands as evidence of the framers foresight and thinking which led to its ratifications. It also shows the Constitution’s adaptability. The difficult journey to ratification highlights civic engagement’s value. It also shows how persistence significantly affects constitutional governance development. In summary the 27th Amendment shows our nation’s lasting commitment to fairness. It emphasizes that public service should put common good before personal gain.

[1] The Bill of Rights: How Did it happen? National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/bill-of-rights/how-did-it-happen, last seen on 25/08/2023

[2] Twenty-seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, Wikipedia, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty-seventh_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution#:~:text=The%20idea%20behind%20this%20amendment,office%20before%20their%20salaries%20increase, last seen on 26/08/2023

[3] Twenty-seventh Amendment, Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Twenty-seventh-Amendment, last seen on 27/08/2023

[4] “Constitutional Amendments” Series – Amendment XXVII – “Financial Compensation for the Congress”, The Reagan Library Education Blog, https://reagan.blogs.archives.gov/2022/10/27/constitutional-amendments-series-amendment-xxvii-financial-compensation-for-the-congress/#:~:text=Library%20Education%20Blog-,%E2%80%9CConstitutional%20Amendments%E2%80%9D%20Series%20%E2%80%93%20Amendment%20XXVII%20%E2%80%93%20%E2%80%9C,Financial%20Compensation%20for%20the%20Congress%E2%80%9D&text=Amendment%20Twenty%2Dseven%20to%20the,until%20the%20next%20election%20concludes, last seen on 27/08/2023


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