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6 Constitutional Amendments That Just Missed the Cut

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Since 1789, Congress has approved 33 constitutional amendments. Twenty-seven of those amendments were eventually ratified and became part of the Constitution. Six failed after being sent to the states. Here's the scoop on those six that didn't make the grade.

1. House Size

"Article the First" may sound a bit Yoda-esque, but it was actually the first provision in the original proposal for the Bill of Rights. The amendment, which the first Congress approved in September 1789, basically provided a way to regulate the expansion of the House of Representatives as the country grew. Among other provisions, the amendment stated that after the House grew beyond 200 members, there would be no more than one Representative for every 50,000 citizens.

Eleven states ratified the amendment between 1789 and 1792, but it never got the three-quarters majority of state support needed for ratification. Although the amendment is still technically eligible for ratification, it seems unnecessary now. Given the current U.S. population, if we went with the maximum ratio of one Representative for every 50,000 people, the House would balloon to over 5,000 Congressmen, which would make finding airtime for campaign commercials nearly impossible.

2. Gifts From Abroad

The Titles of Nobility amendment got the thumbs-up from the 11th Congress in 1810 but failed to gain the requisite traction with the states. The amendment was pretty straightforward; it stated that any U.S. citizen who accepted a title of nobility or honor from a foreign power would cease to be an American citizen and would no longer be eligible to hold an American office. Accepting a gift from a foreign power without Congress' permission would also cost the recipient his citizenship.

Congress overwhelmingly approved this amendment, which seemed aimed at divorcing the U.S. from the allure of the European aristocracy, and twelve states ratified the amendment. However, five states weren't so keen on it, so the amendment never became part of the Constitution. Because there was no clause in the amendment that set a deadline for ratification, it's still technically fair game to add to the Constitution if three-quarters of the states ratify it.

3. "Persons Held to Labor or Service"

The Corwin Amendment made it through Congress in 1861, so you can probably guess what hot-button issue it tackled. The amendment, which was proposed by Ohio Representative Thomas Corwin, read, "No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State."

While the language never mentions slavery directly, it's pretty clear who the "persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State" are. When Congress approved the amendment in March 1861, it was basically the legislature's last-gasp attempt at avoiding the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln even contacted states' governors in an attempt to get their support for the amendment.

Obviously, it didn't work. The Civil War broke out just a month after Congress approved the amendment, and in the end only three states ratified the measure. Like the Title of Nobility amendment, though, it's technically still fair game for ratification.

4. Child Labor

The Child Labor Amendment got Congressional approval in 1924. Proposed by Ohio Representative Israel Moore Foster, the amendment sought to curb some of the era's horrifying child labor practices by giving Congress the exclusive power to "limit, regulate, and prohibit the labor of persons under eighteen years of age."

As the time, there seemed to be a real need for better child labor regulation. The workforce of 10-to-16-year-olds had ballooned to over two million kids, and many of them weren't doing light work like mowing lawns and delivering newspapers. Twenty-eight states ratified the amendment during the 1920s and 1930s, but it never got the necessary three-quarters vote.

You might have noticed, though, that your 12-year-old didn't traipse off to a shift at the steel mill this morning. Thank FDR. In 1938 he signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which nixed labor by children under 16 or hazardous work by those under 18. In 1941 the Supreme Court upheld these provisions, which effectively meant that the Child Labor Amendment wasn't necessary anymore. Like the others, it's still technically pending ratification, though.

5. Equality Now

The Equal Rights Amendment is another pretty straightforward measure. Its key section read, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." The idea for a similar amendment had been kicking around for decades, but it didn't gain real traction until the early 1970s, when NOW ramped up its picketing efforts and the national Women's Strike for Equality in August 1970 drew greater attention to the need for women's rights.

The debate around the amendment was particularly thorny. Some critics worried that the amendment would make women eligible for the draft and to serve in combat duty, while many working class women's groups were concerned that the amendment would nullify any of the protective labor laws that had been helping women in industrial fields.

Congress approved the amendment in 1972, but unlike the previous failed amendments, this one had a time limit for its ratification. The original deadline for ratification was in 1979, and even after Congress pushed back the cutoff date to June 1982, only 35 of the required 38 states ratified the amendment. The amendment isn't totally dead, though; it's been frequently reintroduced since the original 1982 deadline, most recently New York Representative Carolyn B. Maloney.

6. D.C. Statehood

The District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment would have made all those D.C. "Taxation without Representation" license plates a thing of the past. In 1978 the 96th Congress approved an amendment that would have repealed the 23rd Amendment which gives D.C. its Electoral College votes and instead given the citizens of the District full congressional representation and the same ability to vote in national elections.

To an impartial observer, giving D.C.'s 600,000 citizens congressional representation may sound like a fair idea. The states weren't so crazy about the notion, though. Some argued that a single city shouldn't be given two seats in the Senate, while others claimed that giving D.C. representation was tantamount to presenting the Democratic Party with a gift of two free Senate seats. Proponents counter that the District's population is actually larger than Wyoming's, and nobody's trying to swipe the Cowboy State's senators.

When the amendment expired in 1985, only 16 states had ratified it, leaving it well short of the 38 ratifications it needed. Congress frequently hears suggestions for new D.C. voting amendments, though, including ones that would give the District a seat in the House while withholding Senate representation.
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If you're a huge fan of one of these amendments that floundered, don't despair; these things can take some time. The 27th Amendment, which states that changes to congressional pay can't take effect until the next term starts, got congressional approval in 1789 along with the rest of the Bill of Rights. It was over 202 years later when the states finally ratified it in 1992.

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Pop Culture
Fumbled: The Story of the United States Football League
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There were supposed to be 44 players marching to the field when the visiting Los Angeles Express played their final regular season game against the Orlando Renegades in June 1985.

Thirty-six of them showed up. The team couldn’t afford more.

“We didn’t even have money for tape,” Express quarterback Steve Young said in 1986. “Or ice.” The squad was so poor that Young played fullback during the game. They only had one, and he was injured.

Other teams had ridden school buses to practice, driven three hours for “home games,” or shared dressing room space with the local rodeo. In August 1986, the cash-strapped United States Football League called off the coming season. The league itself would soon vaporize entirely after gambling its future on an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League. The USFL argued the NFL was monopolizing television time; the NFL countered that the USFL—once seen as a promising upstart—was being victimized by its own reckless expansion and the wild spending of team owners like Donald Trump.

They were both right.

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Spring football. That was David Dixon’s pitch. The New Orleans businessman and football advocate—he helped get the Saints in his state—was a fan of college ball and noticed that spring scrimmages at Tulane University led to a little more excitement in the air. With a fiscally responsible salary cap in place and a 12-team roster, he figured his idea could be profitable. Market research agreed: a hired broadcast research firm asserted 76 percent of fans would watch what Dixon had planned.

He had no intention of grappling with the NFL for viewers. That league’s season aired from September through January, leaving a football drought March through July. And in 1982, a players’ strike led to a shortened NFL season, making the idea of an alternative even more appealing to networks. Along with investors for each team region, Dixon got ABC and the recently-formed ESPN signed to broadcast deals worth a combined $35 million over two years.

When the Chicago Blitz faced the Washington Federals on the USFL’s opening day March 6, 1983, over 39,000 fans braved rain at RFK Stadium in Washington to see it. The Federals lost 28-7, foreshadowing their overall performance as one of the league’s worst. Owner Berl Bernhard would later complain the team played like “untrained gerbils.”

Anything more coordinated might have been too expensive. The USFL had instituted a strict $1.8 million salary cap that first year to avoid franchise overspending, but there were allowances made so each team could grab one or two standout rookies. In 1983, the big acquisition was Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, who opted out of his senior year at Georgia to turn pro. Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals in a three-year, $5 million deal.

Jim Kelly and Steve Young followed. Stan White left the Detroit Lions. Marcus Dupree left college. The rosters were built up from scratch using NFL cast-offs or prospects from nearby colleges, where teams had rights to “territorial” drafts.

To draw a line in the sand, the USFL had advertising play up the differences between the NFL’s product and their own. Their slogan, “When Football Was Fun,” was a swipe at the NFL’s increasingly draconian rules regarding players having any personality. They also advised teams to run a series of marketable halftime attractions. The Denver Gold once offered a money-back guarantee for attendees who weren’t satisfied. During one Houston Gamblers game, boxer George Foreman officiated a wedding. Cars were given away at Tampa Bay Bandits games. The NFL, the upstart argued, stood for the No Fun League.

For a while, it appeared to be working. The Panthers, which had invaded the city occupied by the Detroit Lions, averaged 60,000 fans per game, higher than their NFL counterparts. ABC was pleased with steady ratings. The league was still conservative in their spending.

That would change—many would argue for the worse—with the arrival of Donald Trump.

Despite Walker’s abilities on the field, his New Jersey Generals ended the inaugural 1983 season at 6-12, one of the worst records in the league. The excitement having worn off, owner J. Walter Duncan decided to sell the team to real estate investor Trump for a reported $5-9 million.

A fixture of New York media who was putting the finishing touches on Trump Tower, Trump introduced two extremes to the USFL. His presence gave the league far more press attention than it had ever received, but his bombastic approach to business guaranteed he wouldn’t be satisfied with an informal salary cap. Trump spent and spent some more, recruiting players to improve the Generals. Another Heisman winner, quarterback Doug Flutie, was signed to a five-year, $7 million contract, the largest in pro football at the time. Trump even pursued Lawrence Taylor, then a player for the New York Giants, who signed a contract saying that, after his Giants contract expired, he’d join Trump’s team. The Giants wound up buying out the Taylor/Trump contract for $750,000 and quadrupled Taylor’s salary, and Trump wound up with pages of publicity.

Trump’s approach was effective: the Generals improved to 14-4 in their sophomore season. But it also had a domino effect. In order to compete with the elevated bar of talent, other team owners began spending more, too. In a race to defray costs, the USFL approved six expansion teams that paid a buy-in of $6 million each to the league.

It did little to patch the seams. Teams were so cash-strapped that simple amenities became luxuries. The Michigan Panthers dined on burnt spaghetti and took yellow school buses to training camp; players would race to cash checks knowing the last in line stood a chance of having one bounce. When losses became too great, teams began to merge with one another: The Washington Federals became the Orlando Renegades. By the 1985 season, the USFL was down to 14 teams. And because the ABC contract required the league to have teams in certain top TV markets, ABC started withholding checks.

Trump was unmoved. Since taking over the Generals, he had been petitioning behind the scenes for the other owners to pursue a shift to a fall season, where they would compete with the NFL head on. A few owners countered that fans had already voiced their preference for a spring schedule. Some thought it would be tantamount to league suicide.

Trump continued to push. By the end of the 1984 season, he had swayed opinion enough for the USFL to plan on one final spring block in 1985 before making the move to fall in 1986.

In order to make that transition, they would have to win a massive lawsuit against the NFL.

In the mid-1980s, three major networks meant that three major broadcast contracts would be up for grabs—and the NFL owned all three. To Trump and the USFL, this constituted a monopoly. They filed suit in October 1984. By the time it went to trial in May 1986, the league had shrunk from 18 teams to 14, hadn’t hosted a game since July 1985, kept only threadbare rosters, and was losing what existing television deals it had by migrating to smaller markets (a major part of the NFL’s case was that the real reason for the lawsuit, and the moves to smaller markets, was to make the league an attractive takeover prospect for the NFL). The ruling—which could have forced the NFL to drop one of the three network deals—would effectively become the deciding factor of whether the USFL would continue operations.

They came close. A New York jury deliberated for 31 hours over five days. After the verdict, jurors told press that half believed the NFL was guilty of being a monopoly and were prepared to offer the USFL up to $300 million in damages; the other half thought the USFL had been crippled by its own irresponsible expansion efforts. Neither side would budge.

To avoid a hung jury, it was decided they would find in favor of the USFL but only award damages in the amount of $1. One juror told the Los Angeles Times that she thought it would be an indication for the judge to calculate proper damages.

He didn’t. The USFL was awarded treble damages for $3 in total, an amount that grew slightly with interest after time for appeal. The NFL sent them a payment of $3.76. (Less famously, the NFL was also ordered to pay $5.5 million in legal fees.)

Rudy Shiffer, vice-president of the Memphis Showboats, summed up the USFL's fate shortly after the ruling was handed down. “We’re dead,” he said.

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entertainment
The Time Douglas Adams Met Jim Henson
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On September 13, 1983, Jim Henson and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams had dinner for the first time. Henson, who was born on this day in 1936, noted the event in his "Red Book" journal, in characteristic short-form style: "Dinner with Douglas Adams – 1st met." Over the next few years the men discussed how they might work together—they shared interests in technology, entertainment, and education, and ended up collaborating on several projects (including a Labyrinth video game). They also came up with the idea for a "Muppet Institute of Technology" project, a computer literacy TV special that was never produced. Henson historians described the project as follows:

Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute – a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”

While the show was never produced, the development process gave Jim and Douglas Adams a chance to get to know each other and explore a shared passion. It seems fitting that when production started on the 2005 film of Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would create animatronic creatures like the slovenly Vogons, the Babel Fish, and Marvin the robot, perhaps a relative of the robot designed by Michael Frith for the MIT project.

You can read a bit on the project more from Muppet Wiki, largely based on the same article.

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