As a student, did you ever have a teacher give you a low grade you didn’t believe you deserved?  Was your first emotional reaction, “I’ll show that teacher!”?  Everyone has been unjustly downgraded at some point in their lives.  Most people eventually move on.  One student who didn’t accept his C, changed the United States Constitution.

In 1982, Gregory Watson was a sophomore in a government class at the University of Texas-Austin. The students had to write a paper about a governmental process.  He decided to write how amendments were added to the US Constitution.  Doing research in library (no available internet back then), he found a book about amendments that had been sent to the states, yet never had enough approval to be added to the Constitution.

One of the amendments had been proposed by James Madison and was intended to be part of the original Bill of Rights.  The proposed amendment read:

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

Basically, Congress couldn’t vote itself a pay raise.  Any increase in pay would not take effect until after the next election.

Not enough states had approved it when originally proposed.  Three-fourths of the states in the union must approve an amendment for it to be added to the Constitution.  But the bill sending it to the states did not have a deadline in it.  This was important.  Watson wrote his paper about this amendment and argued that it could still be ratified, even though it was 200 years later.

His paper earned a C. Watson thought his paper deserved better and appealed the grade to his professor, who let it stand as is.  To prove his argument was correct, Watson decided to get the thing ratified.

He began to write to state legislators all over the country.  Despite much lack of interest and support, eventually the Maine legislature passed the amendment in 1983.  That was his first success.  Gradually, more and more states ratified it.  In 1992 ten years after the C paper, the Michigan legislature became the 38th state to approve the 27th amendment to the Constitution.

So why can’t the Equal Rights Amendment be added, even at such a late date?  That proposed amendment is dead because when Congress passed the original bill, they put a deadline in for when ratification had to be achieved.  Only 35 states had approved it by the deadline, even though the date was eventually extended.  To resurrect it, Congress would need to pass a new bill to send to the states, and the quest for 38 approvals would begin again.

I read about Gregory Watson’s quest at the link below.  There are many other details in that article about his efforts and the professor’s reaction when he succeeded.  By the way on March 4, 2017, the university officially changed his grade to an A+.

One person can make a difference.