Amendments and Polarization


A stylized map of the United States is split by a slash of color between red and blue, with a yellow elephant icon superimposed on the red half of the map and a yellow donkey icon superimposed on the blue half of the map. Numerous other red and blue animal icons fill the sides of the pink background.

Aside from the Twenty- Sixth Amendment, ratified in 1971, lowering the voting age to eighteen (and generally understood as a product of the antiwar movement), the political agitation of the nineteen-sixties and -seventies produced no amendments to the Constitution or, rather, it produced more amendments than had ever been proposed before, but none were ratified. In an era of widening political polarization, meaningful amendment had become effectively impossible even before the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1982 and the failure, from the right, of the Balanced Budget Amendment. Instead of producing constitutional amendments, the revolutionary movements of the nineteen-sixties and nineteen-seventies, which have never ended, led to a decades-long conservative insurgency, from law and order, the defense of marriage, and climate-denialism to the Tea Party, Trumpism, anti-vaxxers, and the Insurrection at the Capitol. Movements like Civil Rights, women's liberation, marriage equality, and environmentalism produced landmark legislative gains and rights-protecting court decisions whose importance is matched only by their reversibility.

Consitutional Amendments Proposed In Congress

Consitutional Amendments Proposed In Congress. In the early 1920s, the chart shows a spike in top 0.01% earner's income proportion (blue), followed by a dip in 1924, and a spike in the 1930s; it dips again and trends downward until the late 1970s and has now risen to all time highs. The mean Congressional polarization percentage, in red, drops in the 1930s and has risen slowly and steadily ever since. The most amendments were proposed in the 1960s and 1970s (grey bars).

In 2013, Shelby v. Holder undid much of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 2021, in a 5-4 decision not to review Texas's new anti-abortion laws, the Court signaled its willingness to overturn its 1973 decision, Roe v. Wade. Anticorruption and antidiscrimination measures all are vulnerable to reversal by the Court. So are environmental regulations which are threatened every day by a constitution that makes no place for the natural world and by a Supreme Court majority that is the most formidable legacy of the counter-revolutionary conservative insurgency.

Consitutional Amendments and Congressional Polarization

Consitutional Amendments and Congressional Polarization. Polarization decreased sharply in the 1930s and remained low throughout the 1960s, and is now rising to all time highs; the number of proposed amendments is at all time lows.