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Coleman v. Miller

Coleman v. Miller
Argued October 10, 1938
Reargued April 17–April 18, 1939
Decided June 5, 1939
Full case name Coleman, et al. v. Miller, Secretary of the Senate of State of Kansas, et al.
Citations 307 U.S. 433 (more)
59 S. Ct. 972; 83 L. Ed. 1385; 1939 U.S. LEXIS 1066; 1 Lab. Cas. (CCH) P17,046; 122 A.L.R. 695
Prior history Cert. to the Supreme Court of Kansas
A proposed amendment to the Federal Constitution is considered pending before the states indefinitely unless Congress establishes a deadline by which the states must act. Further, Congress—not the courts—is responsible for deciding whether an amendment has been validly ratified.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Hughes, joined by Roberts, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas
Concurrence Black, joined by Roberts, Frankfurter, Douglas
Dissent Butler, joined by McReynolds
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Art. V

Coleman v. Miller, 307 U.S. 433 (1939) is a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court which clarified that if the Congress of the United States—when proposing for ratification an amendment to the United States Constitution, pursuant to Article V thereof—chooses not to specify a deadline within which the state legislatures (or conventions held in the states) must act upon the proposed amendment, then the proposed amendment remains pending business before the state legislatures (or conventions). The case centered on the Child Labor Amendment, which was proposed for ratification by Congress in 1924. Congress first imposed a ratification deadline on a proposed constitutional amendment in 1917 with its proposal of what became the 18th Amendment. Therefore, it is clear that Congress was quite aware in 1924 that—had it desired to do so—it could have imposed a deadline upon the Child Labor Amendment and Congress simply chose not to.

According to Coleman, it is none other than the Congress itself—if and when the Congress should later be presented with valid ratifications from the required number of states—which has the discretion to arbitrate the question of whether too much time has elapsed between Congress' initial proposal of that amendment and the most recent state ratification thereof assuming that, as a consequence of that most recent ratification, the legislatures of (or conventions conducted within) at least three-fourths of the states have ratified that amendment at one time or another.

The Coleman ruling—which modified the high Court's earlier 1921 dictum in Dillon v. Gloss—formed the basis of the belated and unusual ratification of the 27th Amendment. The question was discussed in Dillon v. Gloss, but was not necessary to the decision, and thus was not binding in a future case.

As of 2015, the Congressional Apportionment Amendment of 1789, the Titles of Nobility Amendment of 1810, the Corwin Amendment of 1861, and the Child Labor Amendment of 1924 technically remain pending before the state legislatures due to the lack of deadlines for ratification in the legislation approved by Congress proposing those amendments.

The Coleman decision has been described as reinforcing the political question doctrine which is sometimes espoused by Federal courts in cases wherein the court deems the matter at hand to be properly assigned to the discretion of the legislative branch of the Federal government.

See also

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