How Well Do You Know the Amendments to the U.S. Constitution?


By: Zoe Samuel

7 Min Quiz

Image: DNY59/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

The U.S. Constitution, signed in September of 1787, was controversial before the ink was dry. Of the committee who drafted it, not all put their signatures to it. Its creation marked only the beginning of the controversies that would surround the life of the document. Amendments came hard and fast, quickly creating a network of intellectual congruences and incongruences which had to be worked out in courts, in the Civil War and, in some cases, through further amendments.

Two-thirds is the magic number for making changes to the constitution. If two-thirds of the states' house legislatures vote to hold a constitutional convention, they may use it as a mechanism to propose new amendments to the U.S. Constitution. If the Federal legislators in the U.S. Congress decide to change the constitution, they first must introduce an amendment that passes with two-thirds of the vote, both in the House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate. Unlike most legislation, constitutional amendments do not go to the president for ratification, so no president can veto the legislation. Of the amendments made thus far, none were proposed by the state legislatures.

Potential citizens are tested on their knowledge of the amendments to the U.S. Constitution as part of the process of becoming U.S. citizens. How well do you know your rights?

The U.S. can't issue punishments that are considered cruel and unusual. Which amendment covers this?

The Eighth Amendment, which is part of the Bill of Rights, protects against legal punishments deemed to be "cruel and unusual." This ambiguous language is intentional, to prevent future generations from issuing new and creative cruelties or excessive and unusual punishments upon its people.


One of the U.S. Constutution's amendments protects both reporters and religious minorities. Do you know which amendment that is?

The First Amendment not only protects the press, free speech and the right of the people to petition the government (which is not the same as the right to vote), but it also prohibits the government from establishing a religion, and it protects the free practice of religion. That First Amendment is a real mouthful.


How many amendments to the U.S. Constitution have been proposed but not ratified?

In its history, the U.S. Constitution has seen six amendments proposed but not ratified. Of these six, two are no longer pending, as they had a window for ratification which has passed. Some of the amendments which were not ratified were addressed in other laws or amendments, while others were not.


Which amendment, initially pushed through by the religious right of the age, was later struck down?

The 18th Amendment began what is popularly known as the Prohibition Era. It did this by banning the sale, transport and manufacture of "intoxicating liquors" and empowering states to enforce this. The amendment did not stop alcohol consumption, but it did create a black market for alcohol, giving rise to organized crime and the model for today's illegal drug trade.


What amendment makes it legal to yell "fire" in a crowded theater?

American jurisprudence has placed many limits on rights guaranteed in the Constitution, including the right of free speech. These limits are usually defined as when one's personal rights begin to infringe on the rights of others. Yelling "fire" in a crowded theater, assuming there is no fire, creates undue danger as there could be a panic and people could be badly hurt in the stampede. Thus, it is not legal.


Of the amendments to the U.S. Constitution which passed, which was the one proposed after the 10th Amendment?

There can be a drag after the proposal of an amendment. The shortest amount of time an amendment took between proposal and ratification was three months and eight days. The longest? Well, number 27 was proposed in the 1700s, but only ratified in the 20th century, 202 years later. Were it ratified quickly, it would have been the 11th Amendment.


How is an individual right different from a collective right?

One major bone of contention among legal scholars and advocacy groups is whether certain rights are individual rights, meaning rights that everyone has unto themselves, or collective rights, such as the rights of a trade union or an indigenous group. This is the central arena for arguments about many amendments.


Which amendment was put in place following the assassination of President Kennedy?

The 25th Amendment clarified various parts of the Constitution dealing with presidential succession in the event of the president's inability to serve, due to incapacitation, death, resignation or removal from office. It enumerated the long and complex line of succession we now know today, which forms the premise of the television show "Designated Survivor."


In what year did the U.S. Constitution start including protections such that any U.S. Citizen over eighteen could not be denied the vote on account of age?

The year 1971 saw the passage of the 26th Amendment, which ensured that, at least on account of age, no one older than eighteen would be denied the right to vote. Previous legislative attempts nearly succeeded in this, but it took a constitutional amendment to make it the law of the land everywhere in the United States.


When someone says they are going to "invoke the Fifth Amendment," what exactly does that mean?

Usually, when someone says they "plead the Fifth," they don't want to answer a question. The Fifth Amendment provides some of the most interesting and useful legal protections in the American system, including but not limited to the right to a grand jury in the event of an "infamous crime," the right against self-incrimination and the right not to endure being tried repeatedly under the same charge. This final point has been a bone of contention among legal scholars for years, as under the current system, one can be charged with a local crime and a federal crime, which are essentially the same.


The U.S. Constitution guarantees a "speedy and public trial" in "all criminal prosecutions." Can you recall which amendment does this?

The Sixth Amendment is the embodiment of all the legal norms most Americans think of, regarding the protections that accused criminals enjoy in the U.S. These include but are not limited to a speedy trial in the state where the crime is said to have taken place and the right to legal counsel.


What was the effect of the 19th Amendment?

The global suffragist movement was bigger than the United States' suffragist movement, of course, but in the U.S., women's suffrage took the form of the 19th Amendment. Getting popular support was complicated, requiring decades of work educating the public on the issue through pamphlets, marches and demonstrations.


As of early 2020, in what year was the most recent amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed?

The 27th Amendment, proposed in 1789, was not ratified until 1992. One could be forgiven for thinking it was somehow about a controversial subject, like slavery or states' rights, but no. Instead, all it was about was when U.S. Congressmen's pay raises would go into effect.


What was the purpose of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?

The 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913, changed how federal legislators were elected. Previously, U.S. senators were chosen by their states' legislatures. As of this amendment, the senators would be chosen by the popular vote of their states' eligible electorates. The old idea was that senators, being separate from the populist will, would be free to temper the impetuousness of the House of Representatives. With this amendment, it seemed, both bodies would finally serve the same master.


The Ninth Amendment was originally an article in the Bill of Rights, which went through many changes before ratification. Which article became the Ninth Amendment?

The Ninth Amendment, "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people," was originally the 15th Article of Madison's Bill of Rights. As the document was edited, streamlined and slimmed down, the number of amendments-to-be was trimmed to 10, and thus, it became the Ninth Amendment.


Which amendment prevented politicians from the Confederate States of America from being elected to offices in the post-Civil War era?

Section Three of the 14th Amendment essentially prevents anyone who was part of an "insurrection" to hold any office, be it political, civil or military, in the U.S. government, on the federal or state level. This was to prevent anyone from the former Confederate States of America from poisoning the U.S. with insurrectionist notions or, indeed, plans.


To what amendment is the right to privacy owed?

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures," sounds like a good basis for the right to privacy (with one's doctor in the cases of Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade), but it isn't — it's the Fourth Amendment. In the Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut, author of the majority opinion Justice Douglas wrote that the right to privacy is "within the protected penumbra of specific guarantees of the Bill of Rights," such as the right against self-incrimination.


Which of the following is not an accepted judicial philosophy about the workings of the U.S. Constitution?

The unitary executive theory is an approach to the narrow lane of executive authority in the U.S., but not a broad theory of jurisprudence. The two main active schools of thought are the living document school and strict constructionism. The living document philosophy supports applying our modern understanding of what rights in the Constitution mean (i.e., privacy being implied by privacy of one's documents). On the other hand, the strict constructionists (sometimes called originalists) believe the only way to read the document is to understand the meaning of its words as they would be understood by those who wrote them, in their era.


Which amendment gives the Supreme Court of the United States the right to interpret the Constitution?

The Supreme Court has been seen as the arbiter of constitutional law for more than a century, but there is no part of the Constitution that names it the final arbiter of the meaning of the document. Various beliefs about who should have the final world have been bandied about, but no one has been able to agree on another person or institution. Deemed free of politics, SCOTUS is seen as the high priesthood of the Constitution.


What specific turn of phrase does the 14th Amendment use that was not used in the Declaration of Independence, for fear it would be used to defend slavery?

Coming after the 13th Amendment, the 14th Amendment could use the more traditional "life, liberty, and property" in describing the benefits of citizenship. In the Declaration of Independence, the turn of phrase "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" was used instead. One theory is that if the right to property had been on the nation's mission statement, ending slavery would have been impossible, as enslaved African-Americans were then considered to be property.


Which case that came before the Supreme Court seemed to contradict all rights guaranteed in the Constitution, including all amendments?

In United States v. Cruikshank, SCOTUS ruled that the rights in the Constitution only applied to one's relationship to the federal government, meaning that state actors could issue laws restricting rights seemingly guaranteed by the U.S., including those in the 14th and Second Amendments. This case protected racist laws passed by Southern states, in open defiance of the 14th Amendment, which had just passed.


The Third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was a reaction to what?

The British government had passed a series of laws collectively called the Quartering Acts. These laws required colonists to pay for the military personnel who were placed among them, to prevent the insurrections which turned into the Revolution. The acts demanded that, if no space remained in the barracks or the available inns, American colonists must quarter British soldiers in their homes, with their families. The Third Amendment makes it illegal for the United States to ever consider such a thing during times of peace.


According to the U.S. Constitution as it currently stands, who is second in line to succeed the president?

Given that most of the chain of succession consists of cabinet members, it is curious that the second in line should be someone from outside of the executive, but it does have a certain logic. The speaker of the house is the elected representative of the largest group of elected representatives in the body that represents the will of the American electorate, as measured by population.


The 13th Amendment was passed in 1865. What was its effect?

Slavery was never fully abolished in the U.S. Instead, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery with an exception: punishment for crimes. As a result, prison staff can force prisoners to work, as many do, in manufacture. This is where the image of the chain gang comes from: prisoners forced to do roadside labor as part of their incarceration.


Few argue about the Ninth Amendment without raising an eyebrow. What does the Ninth Amendment guarantee?

The Ninth Amendment, second to last in the Bill of Rights, specifies that the rights guaranteed by the Constitution are not limited to the ones specifically enumerated in the document. This, above other text, is the source for interpretation of the document beyond the accepted boundaries in established law.


Do you know what the 12th Amendment did that we can't imagine living without today?

The modern convention of the presidential ticket is a direct product of the 12th Amendment. Before this, the winner of the election would be president, and the runner up would be vice president. Furthermore, electors could use their electoral votes any way they liked, but they could not differentiate between who they wanted for president or vice president.


The Constitution guarantees the right to trial by jury in civil court. Which constitutional amendment guarantees this?

Civil court being different from criminal court, the Bill of Rights takes into account the need to specify the right to a trial by jury for it. While this right may be waived, it is guaranteed. It is worth pointing out that while this amendment covers civil law, it does not cover maritime law.


According to the U.S. Constitution, what is the maximum amount of time any U.S. citizen may serve as president?

When the U.S. Constitution was changed, after FDR's tenure, it limited any president to two elected terms, meaning eight years. There is a caveat, however. If said president stepped in as an unelected president for no more than two years prior to those two full, elected terms, that is also acceptable. For example, if an acting vice president were sworn in as president more than two years into a presidency, they could be elected for an additional eight years, totaling 10.


In line with the U.S. Constitution as it presently exists, and assuming all cabinet members are eligible to serve, who is seventeenth in line to succeed the president?

The secretary of veterans affairs is seventeenth in line to the presidency, according to the rules set forth by the 25th Amendment. Positions immediately preceding the secretary of veterans affairs in ascending order are the secretary of education, the secretary of energy, the secretary of transportation, and the secretary of housing and urban development, who is thirteenth in line.


Which of the following is Madison's original proposed text of the right to bear arms?

The original version of the right to bear arms took care to make it clear that while all Americans may keep and bear arms because they need to serve in their state militias in times of war, those Americans with religious prohibitions against owning weapons or serving a government would not be required to do so. The religious prohibitions text was removed, as it was felt at the time that this should be covered by specific legislation, outside of the Bill of Rights.


What is the purpose of the 10th Amendment's limits on the federal government?

The final amendment in the Bill of Rights explicitly limits the powers of the federal government to those granted by the U.S. Constitution. At the time of the country's founding, this was pushed primarily by two groups: those worried about poorer states seizing funds or credit from rich ones, and those concerned about the federal government banning the slave trade. This compromise kept the union together until the Civil War.


Which unratified amendment would have effectively repealed another amendment?

The District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment would have, in effect, modified or overturned the 23rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 23rd Amendment granted the District of Columbia electors in the electoral college, meaning that its residents could participate in presidential elections. The District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment would have given Washington, D.C., representation in the House and Senate, in addition to the right to help elect the president.


Which two amendments combined to stop the use of poll taxes in local elections?

The 24th and 14th Amendments put an end to poll taxes, a tactic used to exclude economically disadvantaged groups, such as Southern African Americans, from voting. The 24th Amendment stopped the use of poll taxes in federal elections, while the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause was later used to put an end to poll taxes at the local level.


What amendments make up the Bill of Rights?

The Bill of Rights, a document initially drafted by James Madison, brought necessary changes to the original Constitution. The two major political parties at the time had fought over the original document, with the Federalists winning. The Bill of Rights addressed the interests of the Anti-Federalists, a group whose support was needed to help the fledgling federal government survive.


Which of the following is not a real proposed or ratified amendment?

Curiously, neither the U.S. Constitution nor its amendments actually guarantee anyone the right to vote. Voting, as a mechanism, is mentioned, but more in the sense of not restricting the rights of certain groups to vote. That America upholds the right to vote as a signature feature of its governance is a curiosity of history.


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