Coleman and the State Legislatures

In the same Coleman decision, the Supreme Court described what powers Congress had in regards to the amendatory process and the states and what Congress was allowed to do regarding a ratification vote of a state. The Court stated:

"The question [of ratification] did arise in connection with the adoption of the Fourteenth amendment. The legislatures of Georgia, North Caroline and South Carolina had rejected the amendment in November and December, 1866. New governments were erected in those States (and in others) under the direction of Congress. The new legislatures ratified the amendment... Ohio and New Jersey first ratified and then passed resolution withdrawing their consent. As there were then thirty-seven States, twenty-eight were needed to constituted the requisite three-fourths. On July 9, 1868, the Congress adopted a resolution requesting the Secretary of State to communicate 'a list of Sates of the Union whose legislatures have ratified the fourteenth article of amendment', and in Secretary Seward's report attention was called to the action of Ohio and New Jersey. On July 20th Secretary Seward issued a proclamation reciting the ratification by twenty-eight States, including North Caroline, South Carolina, Ohio and New Jersey, and stating that it appeared that Ohio and New Jersey had since passed resolutions withdrawing their consent and that 'it is deemed a matter of doubt and uncertainty whether such resolutions are not irregular, invalid and therefore ineffectual'. The Secretary certified that if the ratifying resolutions of Ohio and New Jersey were still in full force and effect, notwithstanding the attempted withdrawal, the amendment had become a part of the Constitution. On the following day the Congress adopted a concurrent resolution which, reciting that three-fourths of the States having ratified )the list including North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio and New Jersey), declared the Fourteenth Amendment to be a part of the Constitution and that it should be duly promulgated as such by the Secretary of State. Accordingly, Secretary Seward, on July 28th, issued his proclamation embracing the States mentioned in the congressional resolution.

Thus the political departments of the Government dealt with the effect both of previous rejection and of attempted withdrawal and determined that both were ineffectual in the presence of an actual ratification. While there were special circumstances [the removal of the state legislatures and replacement of them by order of Congress], because of the action of the Congress in relation to the governments of the rejecting States (North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia), these circumstances were not recited in proclaiming ratification...

We think that in accordance with this historic precedent the question of the efficacy of ratifications by state legislatures, in the light of previous rejection or attempted withdrawal, should be regarded as a political question pertaining to the political departments, with the ultimate authority in the Congress in the exercise of its control over the promulgation of the adoption of the amendment."