How does the constitution get changed?

Anonymous asked this question on 5/21/2000:

Constitution is capable of changing by supreme court, president, etc. How is this capability recognized? Please give one example that I could understand this concept.

JesseGordon gave this response on 5/21/2000:

Only the Congress or the states can actually CHANGE the Constitution. The only way to actually CHANGE it is via a constitutional amendment. Congress or the states can initiate that, and the amendment has to be ratified by a fixed number of states before it takes effect. We've got 27 amendments, the most recent as of 1992.

The Constitution can also be changed at a "Constitutional Convention," but none have been done that way since the 1700s. There was a movement in the 1990s to call a Convention to make a Balanced Budget Amendment, but it never succeeded.

The Supreme Court can INTERPRET the Constitution, but can't change it. A lot of people would say there's not much difference between those, since interpretation that has the force of law isn't much different than a new amendment.

For example, the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court legalizing abortion was an interpretation of the constitutional definition of a person (a "person" is someone who is born; hence aborting a fetus does not affect the rights of a person). To change that interpretation will likely require a "Right to Life Amendment," as its proponents propose.

The President also can't CHANGE the Constitution -- he can only EXECUTE it (hence the term "Executive Branch"). But the President can choose which parts to execute strongly and which to not execute at all, so again this is often only a semantic distinction.

For example, Pres. Bush pushed for a Line Item Veto amendment (and failed to get one). But many constitutional scholars said that he had the right to execute a line-item veto without an amendment, and he could return a bill to Congress with parts vetoed to test it out. That would probably have led to a Supreme Court ruling; I believe the issue was resolved by Congress passing a law allowing it, Clinton testing it, and the Supreme Court declaring it illegal. Clinton could test it a few more times to define the boundaries, but has not.

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