The 17th Amendment: The Death of State Sovereignty?
I will be the first to admit that I am a conservative talk radio junkie. I listen to them all: Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh. A few days ago, a caller on Sean Hannity’s show expressed his opinion that we could correct much of the corruption in Washington if the 17th Amendment was repealed. Hannity blew him off, with the comment that there are other ways to battle corruption. While that may be true, I think the comment shows a complete lack of understanding of the significance of the 17th Amendment.
For those of you who don’t have the US Constitution memorized, the 17th Amendment provides for the direct election of Senators by the people of the state. Prior to the 17th Amendment, Senators were chosen by the state legislatures. The reason for this was simple. The House of Representatives, with its direct election by the people of each Congressional District every two years, represented the interests of the people. The Senate, whose members were chosen by each State’s legislature every six years, would represent the interests of the state.
These two separate houses of congress, each serving different interests, would balance the power between the interests of the state and the people. If a congressman was not keeping the people of his district happy, he could be voted out within two years. And while Senators held a six year term, the state legislature could recall the senator if he did not represent the interests of his state. The 17th Amendment, with its direct election of senators by popular vote, upset this balance of power. Now, the state’s had no representation. In essence, there were now two Houses of Representatives and one of them (the senate) wan only beholden to the people every six years.
One of the main reasons for the passage of the 17th Amendment was a procedural issue. There were occasional deadlocks within a state’s legislature, and this would result in a state going without representation. (In fact, there was one time when the state of New York went without representation for three months.) Other stated reasons for the Amendment were to end corruption, and direct election of Senators would lead to better representation of the people of the state.
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Well, we all know that the corruption didn’t end, and many Senators only acknowledge the people of their state during campaign season. And now, without state representation, federal power would grow by leaps and bounds. The 10th Amendment states “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” But with Senators no longer representing the interests of the state, the 10th Amendment was largely ignored. In addition, the states no longer had any say in the appointment of Federal Judges. The entire power structure had been changed.
Today, the state governments are mere shadows of their former selves. Power is concentrated in the federal government. Only occasionally have states challenged the federal takeover of state rights, and even rarer are the occasions when the Supreme Court has sided with the states.
The 17th Amendment should be repealed. Returning to Senate appointment by state legislatures would reinstate the linkage between the state and the federal political process. Lobbyists would be less of a problem, as a Senator could be recalled by his home state if he was not serving the State’s interests. The state legislatures would also have the ability to decentralized power, redistributing it to the state level when appropriate. It is time we addressed this issue.
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