Notes From Babel

Repeal the 17th Amendment? Don’t give Ezra Klein a heart attack…

with 2 comments

Klein says:

I’ve never understood this sort of thing, and said so in the panel. The Founders didn’t wisely orient the Senate around states. They pragmatically oriented the Senate around states. But now that we’ve been the United States of America for a while and none of the states seem likely to secede, the fact that California has 69 times more people than Wyoming but the same representation in the Senate is an offensive anachronism, at least to Californians.

I find this infuriating. The reason why the suggestion to repeal the 17th Amendment (the 1913 amendment providing for the direct election of senators rather than election by the states—a major federal power play in the states/federal government power struggle) seems so repugnant to people like Klein is because, so they say, it would mean the sparsely populated fly-over “red” states have the same power in the Senate as the dense coastal “blue” states.  But why should this bother anyone if the federal government was one of limited, enumerated powers, as it was designed?  No, the 17th Amendment was a huge part of the Progressive design to wrest control from the states over a wide range of state and local affairs through a centralized federal government.   Wickard v. Filburn and the explosion of the Commerce Clause was another major Progressive victory toward the same end.

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Written by Tim Kowal

September 4, 2010 at 12:50 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Actually, both you and Klein are wrong. The 17th Amendment has nothing to do with the level of representation, only the method of selection. Passage of the 17th Amendment left the states at 2 senators each, just as before, so the malapportionment argument–while a legitimate issue to debate in its own right–has absolutely zero relevance to the issue of 17th Amendment repeal.

    Also, a major motivation of the 17th Amendment was not just progressive desire for centralization (although that was clearly in the air at the time), but growing corruption in the selection of senators–extensive bribery of state legislators for their votes. I think the controls are in place today that this wouldn’t be a big problem (although corruption never completely goes away).

    The only meaningful issue about the 17th selection today is what type of representation we want from the Senate. Should senators represent the citizens of their states (they don’t represent “the public” as a whole) or should they represent the state governments?

    Either is legitimate, so which a person prefers depends on personal values about how the American system should be structured. I’m rather a strong supporter of federalism, so I’d probably support a repeal of the 17th. But it would be reasonable to oppose it as well.

    James Hanley

    September 11, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    • Ha! You’re right. How did that happen? Probably got to thinking about Klein’s more typical grousing about the “anti-democratic” nature of the Senate. Obviously never quite got around to talking about the 17th Amendment.

      Speaking of which, I think I agree with you—I’d support repeal on principle, but I’ve not studied the issue in enough depth to speak on the practical effects either way. Seems many of the same considerations would surround the Electoral College and the National Popular Vote movement. Any opinions on that? Any good books or resources on either of those subjects you could recommend? I think I heard good things about Tara Ross’s Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College.

      Tim Kowal

      September 12, 2010 at 4:11 pm


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