Beyond the Supermajority: Post-Adoption Ratification of the Equality Amendments

Although an amendment to the Constitution is effective when ratified by three-fourths of the states, the states in the Union at the time of adoption unanimously ratified the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Nineteenth Amendments, as well as the Bill of Rights. Ratification of an already effective provision at first blush appears pointless, but it serves an important function: Post-adoption ratifications moot legal and political infirmities with earlier ratifications when, as was the case with the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Nineteenth Amendments, one or more of the first three-fourths of the states to ratify did so in a procedurally questionable manner. Post-adoption ratification has also served as an important symbol; for example, several states ratified the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments during the Civil Rights Era to show support for racial integration.