All US Constitutional Amendments and What They Do

US Constitutional amendments range from the ones that everyone can name at the drop of a hat to a few that are so obscure even the Supreme Court doesn't use them. They enumerate rights not originally in the Constitution, establish some of the most basic legal protections American citizens have, and form the foundation of the legal system in the United States. How many Constitutional amendments are there? 27 big ones, all with a unique effect on American history.

Amendments to the Constitution also fix a number of ambiguities and errors that the Founding Fathers made when they drafted the document. Among these are clearing up confusion about succession, changing the very nature of how presidents are elected, granting voting rights to women and minorities, and taking away opportunities for states to abuse their power.

The first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution make up the Bill of Rights, drafted in 1789 and ratified in 1791. But the remaining 17 amendments, ratified in subsequent years, have played important roles in US history as well.

Here are all 27 US Constitutional amendments, from the First through the Twenty-Seventh, with a summary of what they do, and various other fun Constitution facts.

Photo: 1st United States Congress / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

  • First Amendment

    Date Ratified: December 15, 1791

    What It Does: Prohibits the making of any law that establishes a state religion, impedes the free exercise of religion, abridges the freedom of speech, infringes on the freedom of the press, interferes with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibits petitioning the government for redress of grievances.

    Interesting Fact: The Bill of Rights went through a long period of "judicial dormancy" from the time of its ratification through the early 1900s. As such, the First Amendment was initially meant to apply only to Congress, and wasn't applied to the individual states until the 1920s.
  • Second Amendment

    Date Ratified: December 15, 1791

    What It Does: Protects the right to keep and bear arms.

    Interesting Fact: Different versions of the Second Amendment have differences in punctuation, including the placement of several key commas. These discrepancies have led to numerous interpretations of the amendment.
  • Third Amendment

    Date Ratified: December 15, 1791

    What It Does: Places restrictions on the quartering of soldiers in private homes without the owner's consent during wartime, prohibiting it entirely during peacetime.

    Interesting Fact: Passed as a response to forced quartering by the British during the Revolutionary War, the Third Amendment has never been used as the primary basis of a Supreme Court decision.

  • Fourth Amendment

    Date Ratified: December 15, 1791

    What It Does: Prohibits unreasonable search and seizure and sets out requirements for search warrants based on probable cause as determined by a magistrate.

    Interesting Fact: This amendment was based on English common law that banned searches by representatives of the monarchy looking for seditious materials and wasn't deemed to apply to individual states until 1961. In 1967, Fourth Amendment protections were significantly expanded to include the taping or seizure of electronic communications.
  • Fifth Amendment

    Date Ratified: December 15, 1791

    What It Does: Establishes rules for indictment by grand jury and eminent domain, protects the right to due process, and prohibits self-incrimination and double jeopardy.

    Interesting Fact: Ensures that a defendant can't be compelled to testify at their own trial, but subsequent rulings have held that if one chooses to testify, invoking the Fifth Amendment can be held against them.
  • Sixth Amendment

    Date Ratified: December 15, 1791

    What It Does: Protects the right to a public and speedy trial by an impartial jury, establishes the right to be notified of accusations, to confront one's accuser, to obtain witnesses, and to retain counsel.

    Interesting Fact: In the 1970s, the Supreme Court ruled that if a defendant's right to a speedy trial is violated, then the charges against them must be dropped or overturned.