Constitutional Law: A Breakdown Of All 27 Amendments

bill of rights
  • Jim Notaris

    CPA, ESQ, Legal Editor

  • Steve Longo

    Executive Editor

  • Tyler Dikun

    Executive Editor

    In Brief:

  • The U.S. Constitution is made up of 27 Amendments. Each amendment provides a guideline of various rights that all Americans possess.

  • In order for an amendment to become law, 3/4ths of all states must affirm the amendment and there must be at least a 2/3rds majority in Congress.

  • What are the 27 Amendments? Find out what they are below.

The U.S. Constitution was made effective in 1789, but the framework of the United States hasn’t remained static for centuries. In fact, it’s evolved for more than 200 years thanks to a number of constitutional amendments added to it. The first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights, were ratified back in 1791. Since then, 17 more amendments have also become law in the United States. 

Here’s a detailed look at all constitutional amendments in-depth, including what an amendment is, how an amendment becomes law, and an explanation of what the 27 amendments mean!

What is a Constitutional Amendment?

A constitutional amendment is a modification of the United States Constitution. Their aim is to weave a new law into the framework of the constitution in an attempt to strengthen constitutional law and protect the rights of liberties of American citizens.

How Does a Constitutional Amendment Become Law?

A constitutional amendment becomes law by obtaining a two-thirds majority vote in both the Senate and House of Representatives, which must then be affirmed by three-fourths of the states, or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of U.S. state legislatures, which must be approved by three-fourths of all states. 

To date, all of the 27 amendments of the United States Constitution have become law by having been ratified by at least a two-thirds majority in Congress and being affirmed by three-fourths of the states.

What are the 27 Amendments?

The 27 Amendments of the U.S. Constitution have been enacted in stages for more than 200 years, each of which has changed constitutional law and the rights of U.S. citizens greatly. Here’s a breakdown of all constitutional amendments enacted, including when they were ratified and what they mean!

First Amendment 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Date Ratified: December 15, 1791

Meaning: The First Amendment safeguards religious freedom by barring Congress from establishing a national religion or impeding certain religious groups and also protects freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly, and the right to petition the government. 

Second Amendment 

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Date Ratified: December 15, 1791

Meaning: The Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear firearms. 

Third Amendment

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Date Ratified: December 15, 1791

Meaning: This amendment, spurred by the Revolutionary War, restricts the government from housing soldiers in private homes. 

Fourth Amendment

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Date Ratified: December 15, 1791

Meaning: The Fourth Amendment bars unreasonable seizures and searches and also lays out requirements for search warrants based on probable cause. 

Fifth Amendment

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Date Ratified: December 15, 1791

Meaning: This amendment helps strengthen the legal framework of the United States, laying out rules for grand juries and eminent domain, safeguarding due process rights, and also barring double jeopardy and self-incrimination. 

Sixth Amendment

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Date Ratified: December 15, 1791

Meaning: Also concerned with the U.S. legal system, the Sixth Amendment enshrines the right to a fair and speedy trial by jury, including the rights to call witnesses and retain counsel in legal court cases. 

Seventh Amendment

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Date Ratified: December 15, 1791

Meaning: The Seventh Amendment protects the right to a trial by jury in certain civil cases in accordance with common law. 

Eighth Amendment

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Date Ratified: December 15, 1791

Meaning: This amendment prohibits excessive bail and fines as well as cruel and unusual punishment. 

Ninth Amendment

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Date Ratified: December 15, 1791

Meaning: This amendment protects fundamental rights not specifically enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. 

Tenth Amendment

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Date Ratified: December 15, 1791

Meaning: This amendment confirms that the Federal government possesses only the powers given to it in the United States Constitution. 

Eleventh Amendment

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

Date Ratified: February 7, 1795

Meaning: This amendment, the first passed after the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, makes states immune from suits by citizens who live out-of-state and foreign nationals not living within state borders. 

Twelfth Amendment

The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate; — the President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted; 

The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.

The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

Date Ratified: June 15, 1804

Meaning: The Twelfth Amendment changes the presidential election process by having the president and vice president elected together on the same political ticket. Previously, the vice president was the runner-up in the election. 

Thirteenth Amendment

Section 1.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Date Ratified: December 6, 1865

Meaning: Passed in the wake of the Civil War, this amendment abolishes slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States. 

Fourteenth Amendment

Section 1.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2.

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age,* and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Section 3.

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4.

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5.

The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Date Ratified: July 9, 1868

Meaning: This amendment addresses several key issues that arose in the aftermath of the Civil War, clarifying citizenship and strengthening due process and equal protection in constitutional law. 

Fifteenth Amendment

Section 1.

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. 

Section 2.

The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Date Ratified: February 3, 1870

Meaning: The Fifteenth Amendment granted the right to vote to all men in the United States, regardless of their race. Notably, these new voting rights didn’t extend to women. 

Sixteenth Amendment

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

Date Ratified: February 3, 1913

Meaning: This amendment gave Congress the power to levy an income tax without having to appropriate it to the states or by basing it on the census. 

Seventeenth Amendment

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.

Date Ratified: April 8, 1913

Meaning: This amendment established the election of United States senators based on popular vote. Previously, they were elected by state legislatures. 

Eighteenth Amendment

Section 1.

After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Section 2.

The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Section 3.

This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

Date Ratified: January 16, 1919

Meaning: The Eighteenth Amendment prohibited the sale or manufacturing of alcohol in the United States, ushering in the Prohibition Era. 

Nineteenth Amendment

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Date Ratified: August 18, 1920

Meaning: This amendment finally granted women the right to vote, marking a key victory in the women’s suffrage movement. 

Twentieth Amendment

Section 1.

The terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.

Section 2.

The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3d day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day.

Section 3.

If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.

Section 4.

The Congress may by law provide for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the House of Representatives may choose a President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them, and for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the Senate may choose a Vice President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them.

Section 5.

Sections 1 and 2 shall take effect on the 15th day of October following the ratification of this article.

Section 6.

This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission.

Date Ratified: January 23, 1933

Meaning: This amendment revises the dates as to when the president and vice president are sworn in to January 20 as well as the date when Congress members are sworn in to January 3. 

Twenty-first Amendment

Section 1.

The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2.

The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or Possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

Section 3.

This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

Date Ratified: December 5, 1933

Meaning: The Twenty-first Amendment repealed the Eighteenth Amendment after the strict prohibition laws implemented by it were found to be unworkable, making it the only amendment to repeal a prior amendment. However, it did make it a Federal offense to bring alcohol into “dry states” that still prohibited it. The last dry state, Mississippi, legalized alcohol consumption in 1966. 

Twenty-second Amendment

Section 1.

No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of President more than once. But this Article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this Article was proposed by Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this Article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.

Section 2.

This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission to the States by the Congress.

Date Ratified: February 27, 1951

Meaning: Passed after Franklin D. Roosevelt served four terms in the White House, this amendment restricts the number of times a person can be elected to only twice and also that a person who has served more than two years of a term to which another person was elected to only once. 

Twenty-third Amendment

Section 1.

The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as Congress may direct:

A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the States, but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a State; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article of amendment.

Section 2.

The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Date Ratified: March 29, 1961

Meaning: The Twenty-third Amendment grants Washington, D.C. electors in the Electoral College. 

Twenty-fourth Amendment

Section 1.

The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay poll tax or other tax.

Section 2.

The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Date Ratified: January 23, 1964

Meaning: This amendment, passed during the Civil Rights Movement, bars the revoking of voting rights based on the failure to pay a poll tax or any other taxes. 

Twenty-fifth Amendment

Section 1.

In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

Section 2.

Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

Section 3.

Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

Section 4.

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

Date Ratified: February 10, 1967

Meaning: This amendment, passed in the aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, clarifies the succession of the presidency and established procuedres for dealing with presidential disabilities and vacancies in the office of the president and vice president. 

Twenty-sixth Amendment

Section 1.

The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

Section 2.

The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Date Ratified: July 1, 1971

Meaning: Passed after years of nationwide protests about the Vietnam War, this amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. The fastest amendment to be approved, it was ratified only 100 days after first being submitted on March 23, 1971. 

Twenty-seventh Amendment

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

Date Ratified: May 5, 1992

Meaning: The most recent amendment, the Twenty-seventh Amendment prohibits any law that increases or decreases the salary of Congress members until the start of the next congressional session. This amendment took the longest to ratify, first being submitted on September 25, 1789 and not being enacted until more than 202 years later.

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