The 18th, and 20th to 26th amendments, as well as the ERA and the DC Voting rights outdated proposed amendments, included time limits to their ratification. The time limit clauses vary in shape, form and place among the amendments, but that's not the subject here.

What is the rationale behind such time limits included for ratification of constitutional amendments ? Why would Congress at the same time agree and partially withhold a proposed amendment like this ? I'm assuming it has little to nothing to do with the contents and merits of the amendment themselves, because every proposed amendment since 1932 (20th) included such a limit.

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    It would be better to look at amendments that didn't get ratified because of a time limit or are currently outstanding with a time limit. You might also look at ones that got passed after a very long time such as the 27th which took over 200 years to ratify.
    – Joe W
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 14:59
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    How would that relate to the reasons behind the time limits being there in the first place ? Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 15:01
  • I am suggesting that you would get better data looking at amendments that failed to ratify because of a time limit to understand the reasons then ones that got ratified without any issues. Not to mention I am guessing that there are several reasons for the limits
    – Joe W
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 15:04
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    Can ratification be rescinded? If not, then the reason for the time limit may be that you want the amendment to be approved by a majority of the country. If you allow unlimited time, then by the time some later states ratify it, earlier states or Congress might have changed their mind, so the final decision doesn't represent a current concensus.
    – Barmar
    Commented Sep 1, 2022 at 20:20
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    @QuantumWalnut - See the related question When Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment, why didn't they include the time limit in the amendment itself? and answer regarding the text for the time limits for various amendments.
    – Rick Smith
    Commented Sep 2, 2022 at 14:12

2 Answers 2


Mostly to avoid complicated questions about grants and withdrawals of ratifications, and to secure closure for the process, in circumstances when there may be myriad proposed constitutional amendments outstanding at any one time.

With one or two notable exceptions, constitutional amendments are usually adopted shortly after congress proposes them (and alternative means of proposing and ratifying constitutional amendments have not been utilized).

A fixed time period for ratification also prevents the meaning of a proposed amendment from suffering semantic drift over time as unforeseen changes in the language or in the context against which the amendment is drafted causes its practical meaning from changing over time.

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    Regarding the last paragraph, the "meaning drift" can also happen after the amendment is adopted. E.g. modern understanding of "cruel and unusual punishment" is vastly different from what the drafters of the BoR intended.
    – Barmar
    Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 22:49
  • Thanks ! So, it would be like Congress adding something to the ratification process, which would be missing from the constitution's orders ? From that point of view, it really seems like Congress adopting at the same time a nonpartisan moderation motion - the time limit - and a partisan motion, the amendment itself. Interesting. I would really love some source or congressional debates' report. Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 22:50

I suspect this was a compromise to allow controversial amendments to be passed by Congress. Some legislators who are not really in favor of it might vote for it anyway if they think it has little chance of being ratified by the states, and putting a time limit on that ratification makes it more likely to fail. Voting for it might score them some political points (the federal government can't be blamed for the ERA not becoming law), or could be part of a quid pro quo for some other legislation they're in favor of.

  • I think this may be a small factor, but it seems weird in the bigger picture - how can you find a time limit that's both long enough for those who are for the amendment, and short enough for those who are against ? And how do you do that ten times, including nine in a row (20 to 26 + the two failed ones) ? ohwilleke's answer seems more realistic to me as for reasons that would apply to all these different occurrences. Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 22:47

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