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What Is the Shortest Amendment in the U.S. Constitution?

An interesting trivia question, suggested by my father Vladimir. No fair peeking. (I didn't know the answer until I looked it up.)

corneille1640 (mail):
Is it amendment 8?
11.22.2008 9:09am
corneille1640 (mail):
Strike that....I "peeked" before I saw the warning not to. I admit that my first answer would have been the 27th amendment.
11.22.2008 9:10am
Sarcastro (www):
3?
11.22.2008 9:12am
cboldt (mail):
Mu guess would be repeal of prohibition. Now I'll go peek.
11.22.2008 9:17am
ResIpsaLoquitur (mail):
The question needs clarification: is it the shortest-lived (which would make it the prohibition amendment), or the shortest amount of text?

The latter appears obvious, but thinking like a lawyer, I want to avoid a trick question. I'll vote for the 13th out of sheer ignorance.
11.22.2008 9:18am
Eric Muller (www):
Is there significance, perhaps, to the redundant phrasing in the question? (The shortest "constitutional amendment in the U.S. Constitution"). [EV: Whoops, fixed, thanks!]
11.22.2008 9:26am
blabla:
The Eleventh Amendment?
11.22.2008 9:26am
JCM (mail):
I'm thinking 2, 8, or 9... but I think I'll agree with corneille1640 and say 8.

Now I'll peek.
11.22.2008 9:31am
cboldt (mail):
-- Is there significance, perhaps, to the redundant phrasing in the question? (The shortest "constitutional amendment in the U.S. Constitution"). --
.
I didn't take it as redundant. I took it as specifying which constitution, out of many, was the subject of the question.
11.22.2008 9:42am
Talleyrand:
the 10th
11.22.2008 10:03am
sonicfrog (mail) (www):
Either 9'th or 10'th.

I think I'll go with 10'th.
11.22.2008 10:05am
Anon Y. Mous:
Shortest-lived?

The 18th.
11.22.2008 10:10am
Thoughtful (mail):
The one protecting our liberties against overweening government.

0 words.
11.22.2008 10:13am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
I guessed #2.
11.22.2008 10:36am
oledrunk3 (mail):
The 8th. It is just an inkblot. (former supreme court nominee)
11.22.2008 10:40am
New Esquire:
I'm thinking the 11th, which certainly wins the award for being the one whose obvious interpretation is least like the one actually found by the Supreme Court. Yes, it easily beats even the 9th for that award.
11.22.2008 11:12am
Skyler (mail) (www):
My guess was 27th. or the third.
11.22.2008 11:32am
Oren:
8A has only 16 words, or are we doing this by word count? (or is it some clever word game?)
11.22.2008 11:45am
smitty1e:
The 10th was shortest lasting, anyway.
11.22.2008 11:48am
LM (mail):
None is any longer than another, since there are no amendments. They're all revisions.
11.22.2008 12:28pm
Joe Bingham (mail):
I thought the 9th was the inkblot?
11.22.2008 12:35pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

suggested by my father Vladimir


You have another one?
11.22.2008 12:44pm
nyu.law.libertarian (www):
3rd is my guess
11.22.2008 1:00pm
David Warner:
The 28th Amendment.

I admit to having an unfair advantage, as a mathematician.
11.22.2008 1:12pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
my father Vladimir

"Call me Wally," said the only Vladimir I ever knew. What do his friends call him? Vlad?
11.22.2008 1:28pm
ARS:
You people are putting way too much thought into this, it's the 8th.
11.22.2008 1:34pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Interestingly, some of the runners up require one to decide on one's criterion for length. The Second Amendment is longer than the 27th if one counts words (27 vs. 24), but shorter if one counts characters (146 vs. 163).
11.22.2008 1:45pm
CB55 (mail):
The 26th Amendment allows 18 year olds to vote.
11.22.2008 1:56pm
Fun Spoiler:
Here is a list of amendments ranked from fewest to most words. As previously stated, this changes a little bit if you count the number of letters instead of the number of words, but the 8th is still the shortest by either metric.
The 8th also uses the largest words, at an average of 6 characters per word (the 3rd having the fewest at 3.9).

8th - 16 words
9th - 21 words
27th - 24 words
2nd - 27 words
10th - 28 words
16th - 30 words
3rd - 32 words
19th - 39 words
11th - 43 words
1st - 45 words
13th - 47 words
7th - 50 words
15th - 51 words
26th - 52 words
4th - 54 words
24th - 75 words
6th - 81 words
21st - 96 words
5th - 108 words
18th - 112 words
23rd - 131 words
17th - 134 words
22nd - 164 words
20th - 353 words
25th - 396 words
12th - 401 words
14th - 434 words
11.22.2008 2:47pm
Malvolio:
Sorted by word-count:
Amendment 8 (16 words)
Amendment 9 (21 words)
Amendment 27 (24 words)
Amendment 2 (27 words)
Amendment 10 (28 words)
Amendment 16 (30 words)
Amendment 3 (32 words)
Amendment 19 (39 words)
Amendment 11 (43 words)
Amendment 1 (45 words)
Amendment 13 (45 words)
Amendment 15 (48 words)
Amendment 26 (50 words)
Amendment 7 (50 words)
Amendment 4 (54 words)
Amendment 24 (74 words)
Amendment 6 (81 words)
Amendment 21 (93 words)
Amendment 5 (108 words)
Amendment 18 (109 words)
Amendment 23 (130 words)
Amendment 17 (134 words)
Amendment 22 (164 words)
Amendment 20 (347 words)
Amendment 25 (396 words)
Amendment 12 (399 words)
Amendment 14 (428 words)


Sorted by character count (including spaces, but I doubt that affects the order):
Amendment 8 (112 characters)
Amendment 9 (131 characters)
Amendment 2 (146 characters)
Amendment 3 (157 characters)
Amendment 10 (162 characters)
Amendment 27 (166 characters)
Amendment 16 (194 characters)
Amendment 19 (218 characters)
Amendment 11 (239 characters)
Amendment 26 (269 characters)
Amendment 15 (272 characters)
Amendment 1 (273 characters)
Amendment 7 (273 characters)
Amendment 13 (293 characters)
Amendment 4 (333 characters)
Amendment 24 (419 characters)
Amendment 6 (479 characters)
Amendment 21 (577 characters)
Amendment 5 (590 characters)
Amendment 18 (701 characters)
Amendment 23 (753 characters)
Amendment 17 (806 characters)
Amendment 22 (934 characters)
Amendment 20 (1922 characters)
Amendment 12 (2338 characters)
Amendment 25 (2368 characters)
Amendment 14 (2547 characters)

(Source: http://www.usconstitution.net/const.txt)
11.22.2008 2:56pm
Allan (mail):
The right to privacy amendment is shorter.
11.22.2008 3:18pm
Hadur:
Allan: zing!
11.22.2008 3:51pm
Bama 1L:
It depends on the date and time: the position of the sun affects the length of the penumbras.
11.22.2008 3:54pm
Michael B (mail):
If they were rewritten today by the current Congress they'd all be longer, very likely much longer, excepting for the 2nd and others that would be excised altogether.
11.22.2008 4:40pm
Oren:
Michael, what makes you think that? Even with Dem control of both houses, there's still a decent pro-gun majority. Maybe it won't be as strong an RKBA as you like (they'd probably let states refuse to issue CCW, for instance) but it would still be there.
11.22.2008 4:53pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

Michael, what makes you think that? Even with Dem control of both houses, there's still a decent pro-gun majority. Maybe it won't be as strong an RKBA as you like (they'd probably let states refuse to issue CCW, for instance) but it would still be there.



HR 6257 IH
110th CONGRESS
2d Session
H. R. 6257
To reinstate the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act.
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
June 12, 2008
Mr. KIRK (for himself, Mr. CASTLE, Mr. FERGUSON, and Mr. SHAYS) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary
A BILL
To reinstate the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h110-6257
11.22.2008 5:54pm
Jerry F:
How about the amendment to the effect that homosexual sodomy is a constitutional right? Interestingly, zero-word amendments appear to have a more binding impact than longer amendments when it comes to SCOTUS decisions.
11.22.2008 6:40pm
John Armstrong (mail) (www):
You're a mathematician, David Warner? Put your info in the genealogy!
11.22.2008 7:41pm
Oren:
Glenn, notice that even though it was put forward by a member of the GOP (fun fact: I grew up in that district), that has gone nowhere. The number of pro-gun Democrats exceeds the number of anti-gun Republicans and so, if then assault weapons HR6257 passes, it will be by a very thin margin.

Dead Dead Dead Dead Dead
11.22.2008 7:48pm
Oren:
See also here, passed the Pelosi house (no doubt she voted against it, of course) -- total support is > 60%.

(2) As the Congress and the Supreme Court of the United States have recognized, the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the rights of individuals, including those who are not members of a militia or engaged in military service or training, to keep and bear arms.
11.22.2008 7:54pm
John Moore (www):
Well, the Assault Weapon ban was one that was politically disastrous for the Democrats while having no rationality behind it - regardless of one's view of the 2nd amendment.

That does not mean that the Dems are pro-Guns. Too often I hear Dems, including our pre-POTUS, say they want to protect the right of "hunters," as if the 2nd was about hunters rather than self and collective defense.
11.22.2008 8:29pm
Mad Max (mail):
Its authenticy is disputed, but the "Metallica rulez" amendment is easily the shortest.
11.22.2008 8:49pm
Nick056:
In a discussion of Eric Holder's view of the 2nd amendment, opponents (or skeptics) of Holder as the AG claimed, with varying degrees of pride, that Holder's views defy in large part the interpretation of the 2nd amendment advanced by every sitting SCOTUS judge.

Congress isn't poised to pass significant gun legislation, either, and it was Heller that recently reaffirmed the 2nd amendment right to bear arms, over which there was little (any?) Congressional outrage. Scalia used the excellent phase "prefatory clause" to descrie the words of the 2nd amendment which, incidentally, the NRA excises from its membership cards.

So I'm wondering, in the absence of a single SCOTUS member openly advancing the collective rights theory of the 2nd amendment, in the absence of any Congressional posturing on the Heller decision, why would anybody think the current Congress would erase the 2nd amendent if they could? That doesn't correspond to the Congressional agenda, the broader legal climate, or the national mood. I'm not arguing that nobody but nobody has a restrictive view of gun rights; that's not true, and it's not a position I could credibly defend. But I am saying, that given the legislate and judical cultures at present, who can justify a sincere fear that the 2nd amendment is about to be attacked, or even that, given its druthers, the current Congress would remove
it entirely? As others pointed out, there a lot of gun rights activists in Congress; and arguably Obama's largest gaffe of the campaign season involved an assertion that people "cling" to guns. A reasonable person is entitled to find that statement significant. A reasonable person should also think it's significant that, apparently, that was about the most controversial thing he could say throughout the campaign.

Vanishing gun rights? Really?
11.22.2008 8:52pm
Nick056:
Apologies for the typos.
11.22.2008 8:54pm
Oren:

That does not mean that the Dems are pro-Guns. Too often I hear Dems, including our pre-POTUS, say they want to protect the right of "hunters," as if the 2nd was about hunters rather than self and collective defense.

No, but a large proportion (80, at least) are pro-gun enough to keep any proposal reasonable. Moreover, if Pelosi and Reid want to keep their majorities in 2010, they will not push gun control on vulnerable freshman who are probably a tad too liberal for their constituencies anyway.

Just look at the vote count on the DC 2A bill.
11.22.2008 9:06pm
Freddy Hill:
Using Malvoio's ranking by number of characters, here is the average length for each set of ten:

- Amendments 1-10: ~266 characters
- Amendments 11-20: ~953 characters
- Amendments 21-27: ~784 characters


The Bill of Rights wins in conciseness.

On the other hand, it would have been much easier if they had made it even terser by removing 73 characters, those reading "A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, ". Imagine the rivers of ink and toner we would have saved.
11.23.2008 12:43am
JB:
Blue Dog Democrats are the best possible defense for gun rights.

A Republican President will not sign a gun control bill; a Democrat President will be constrained by the presence in his party of a large, strong pro-gun voice.

250 Democrats, 80 of whom are pro-gun, are less likely to come up with and ram through anti-gun legislation, to be signed by a Democrat President, than 220 Democrats, 50 of whom are pro-gun.

It's the relative strength of lobbies within parties that matters. This can also be illustrated within the Republican party--the strength of the social conservatives is that more of them are currently in office.
11.23.2008 1:09am
Barry P. (mail):
Jerry F-stick:

The Constitution is not a list of the things government allows us to do, it is a list of the limits placed on government by the people.
11.23.2008 1:12am
Confused One:
Here Here!

Let's do amend the Constitution explicitly rejecting any right to homosexual sodomy!

Allowing states to criminalize homosexual sodomy should be the top priority for the administration in these complex times--and jailing homosexual sodomites would, of course, ease all our problems.
11.23.2008 1:33am
eaglewingz08 (mail):
The amendments allowing for abortion and gay marriage are the two shortest amendments to the US Constitution but with the largest penumbrae and lacunae.
11.23.2008 1:29pm
Michael B (mail):
If they were rewritten today by the current Congress they'd all be longer, very likely much longer, excepting for the 2nd and others that would be excised altogether.
"Michael, what makes you think that? ..." Oren
In part it was a rhetorical point to underscore a general principle - but an abundance of words is often a hallmark of pretense, of a beguiling and shallow political class given to tergiversations and self-promotion.

(To remove this from domestic politics to point to a general set of examples, one need only observe the abundance of words at the U.N. - and other tranzi orgs and international law in general - to observe deeply entrenched corruptions and tergiversations. A specific example is the profoundly entrenched anti-Semitism that variously proliferates at the U.N. and other tranzi orgs. It is worth calling attention to this international aside because tranzi orgs - as with black robed jurists - are not directly accountable to voting constituencies.)

As to the number of pro-gun Left/Dems and Dems in general, they include Representatives and Senators who are elected by their constituents, thus are directly accountable to those constituents, to "We the people ..." Otoh, there is ample evidence some of those pro-gun Dems are pro-gun only because they are answerable to their voting constituencies - and not on principle. Their articulations, when it comes to the 2nd Amendment (other issues as well), are similar to Holder's and Obama's. True, the 5-4 Heller decision will require a different tactical advance, but the strategy remains much the same (e.g., read the dissenting opinions and amicus briefs, heed the ambiguity in Obama's rhetoric).
11.23.2008 4:57pm
Thales (mail) (www):
Jerry F writes:

"How about the amendment to the effect that homosexual sodomy is a constitutional right? Interestingly, zero-word amendments appear to have a more binding impact than longer amendments when it comes to SCOTUS decisions."

I think the First Amendment that protects your right to be a sanctimonious bigot has clearly had more impact.
11.23.2008 8:34pm
Bobby Blowhard:
Yeah, Jerry! Don't go around criticizing dumb SCOTUS decisions like a bigot. Unless the decisions are bigoted themselves. Big bigots like you have no place on bigot-free blogs, buddy.
11.23.2008 9:09pm
Jerry F:
Bobby: I assume you are using sarcasm to mock Thales but I have to say, it is sometimes hard to differentiate real Leftists from reasonable people who parody them.

In any case, reasonable people can disagree on whether sodomy laws are beneficial as a matter of policy (I do not believe that the federal government should ever spend resources on this, and the states would probably do best to spend their resources elsewhere in most circumstances), but activist decisions like Lawrence v. Texas that make a mockery of our Constitution should be denounced. And yes, saying that there is a constitutional right to sodomy that derives from "the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life" is making a mockery of the Constitution.
11.23.2008 9:21pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
David Warner wrote:


The 28th Amendment.

I admit to having an unfair advantage, as a mathematician.


Next you will be telling me that a coffee cup and a doughnut are somehow identical ;-)

Sure. Sort of like the old joke about the physicist, the engineer, and the mathemetician.

One day, the three are asked to build the smallest fence around a flock of sheep.

The engineer gathers all the sheep into a circle and builds a circular fence because as we all know a circle has the lowest perimeter for its area.

The physicist says he can do a little better than that. He starts off with an infinitely large fence which he draws infinitely close to the sheep after arranging them infinitely close to one another.

The mathematician builds a very small fence around himself and declares that the area he stands on is the outside of the fence.....
11.24.2008 11:33am
BZ (mail):
Part of my practice is writing constitutional amendments. My first several were very short. The next batch was very long. Now they are shorter, but still fairly long. This is because:

1) Judges require specificity or the amendments are thrown out. This makes them longer, as we tend to add definitions, provisos and conditions.

2) Clients require breadth to avoid loopholes which can be stretched to swallow the text. Lists grow longer, as you can't use broader language because of rule 1 above.

3) Judges now permit prefatory or introductory, non-textual language, so we can explain what we're doing without adding new textual language. This makes them shorter.

4) Sophisticated clients also recognize that attention spans are shorter while suspicion of initiatives and the like is growing, so complicated phrases are out. This makes things shorter. I recall watching a focus group led by one of the "deans" of that business, in which the "expert" began by saying: "Now I know this language is long and complicated, but the lawyers made us do it. So, what do you think of the language?"
11.24.2008 11:39am
Brandon 2L:
Writing short amendments made sense when there was little United States history. We now have a very long list of SCOTUS decisions, Congressional enactments, Executive signing statements, etc., that draw exacting distinctions between word usages, and several that implicitly say that things would have gone much better if the writers had just said exactly what they wanted to say (which turns into meaning making verbiage longer and more detailed).
11.24.2008 1:14pm
Thales (mail) (www):
"In any case, reasonable people can disagree on whether sodomy laws are beneficial as a matter of policy (I do not believe that the federal government should ever spend resources on this, and the states would probably do best to spend their resources elsewhere in most circumstances), but activist decisions like Lawrence v. Texas that make a mockery of our Constitution should be denounced. And yes, saying that there is a constitutional right to sodomy that derives from "the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life" is making a mockery of the Constitution."

Allow me to retort: There is no enumerated constitutional right that prevents the government from herding all people with blond hair and blue eyes, or better yet, all people over 6 feet tall, into concentration camps and killing them.

You will respond, no, the equal protection clause would never allow that! Try again. According to your theory of constitutional interpretation, the 14th amendment refers only to race. No government mandated racial discrimination, no constitutional violation. Tall people are not a suspect class anymore than homosexuals are.

Yet all reasonable people would agree (I think) that for the Supreme Court *not* to strike down such a law as violative of some unenumerated aspect of due process, equal protection, privileges or immunities, etc etc. would be absurd. So clearly some of what you unhelpfully call activism would be permissible. Do you oppose Brown v. the Board of Education? Now my question for you is, how is a law banning sodomy less absurd than the law in my hypothetical?
11.24.2008 1:55pm
Observer:
Thales: The hypothetical law you speak of could be deemed to be a violation of the Ninth Amendment, because if such a law had been passed at the time the Bill of Rights was passed, pretty much everyone even back then would have agreed that it is unconstitutional. I think that a reasonable judge should strike down a law that people hundreds of years ago would have deemed to be a clear violation of the Bill of Rights; this is completely different from making up a whole new right just because you like a particular social agenda.
11.24.2008 2:09pm
Philistine (mail):

Thales: The hypothetical law you speak of could be deemed to be a violation of the Ninth Amendment, because if such a law had been passed at the time the Bill of Rights was passed, pretty much everyone even back then would have agreed that it is unconstitutional. I think that a reasonable judge should strike down a law that people hundreds of years ago would have deemed to be a clear violation of the Bill of Rights;


Interesting interperative approach.

How do you think Social Security would fare under this theory? Or the Controlled Substances Act?
11.24.2008 2:31pm
Thales (mail) (www):
"Thales: The hypothetical law you speak of could be deemed to be a violation of the Ninth Amendment, because if such a law had been passed at the time the Bill of Rights was passed, pretty much everyone even back then would have agreed that it is unconstitutional. I think that a reasonable judge should strike down a law that people hundreds of years ago would have deemed to be a clear violation of the Bill of Rights; this is completely different from making up a whole new right just because you like a particular social agenda."

Conveniently, most advocates of the approach I criticize also do not believe that the Ninth Amendment provides any substantive or justiciable rights (e.g. Robert Bork, Antonin Scalia). But if it does, why does what people who lived in 1791 "deemed" a violation of an indeterminate constitutional text (assuming this is knowable) have more warrant than what reasonable observers of the same text today "deem" it to mean? Isn't it possible that the people of 1791 believed inconsistent things or enacted unconstitutional laws (e.g. the Alien and Sedition Act shortly after the First Amendment) that in some case required judicial resolution? Isn't it objectionable to just make up powers of the government to regulate intimate association, more so than to "make up new rights" to such association?
11.24.2008 3:43pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):

Allow me to retort: There is no enumerated constitutional right that prevents the government from herding all people with blond hair and blue eyes, or better yet, all people over 6 feet tall, into concentration camps and killing them.


Sure there is. Such a law would be an unconstitutional death sentence and run amok with the 4th amendment, extended to the states in the 14th.

Equal protection doesn't even enter into it when you don't start with due process ;-)
11.24.2008 5:28pm
Michael B (mail):
"Part of my practice is writing constitutional amendments. My first several were very short. The next batch was very long. Now they are shorter, but still fairly long." BZ

Well, I was referring to the U.S. Constitution specifically. Constitutional precepts incorporated into the documents of second world, third world and newly emerging states - if that's what you're referring to - are going to be dictated by their own regional, geographic, ethnic, etc. particulars. One size doesn't fit all. E.g., Georgia obviously has its own ethnic, geographic, borderland (Russia), historical, etc. particulars that cannot be ignored or swept aside for the sake of highmindedness.

Regardless and not at all to be argumentative, a general guideline (if not a hard and fast rule) allowing statutes and regulatory agencies to flesh out local and more exhaustive details, while instituting more basic tenets within a constitution, would seem appropriate. A pithy and fitting constitutional tenet, like an aphorism, has the potential to contain a great deal; hence they are both art forms of a certain kind.
11.25.2008 4:46pm