Thursday, October 11, 2007

The worst amendment

There are very, very few things about the Constitution that I would just outright change. There are lots of very important areas where reasonable people can differ, with enormous consequence, and I would certainly like to see those clarified, but that's not what I mean here. Here I'm talking about things in the current Constitution, as amended, that are just plain wrong.

The first and foremost among these is the 17th Amendment. If I could change one thing about the Constitution, it would be to clarify the meaning of "general welfare". If I could change two, though, the second would be to get rid of the 17th Amendment. I'm doubtful that a repeal would actually fix the problems its passage created, but I'm confident that leaving it in place would be a disaster. The idea of directly electing Senators was thought of in the Constitutional convention but it was believed that, in the words of Roger Sherman "the senators, being eligible by the legislatures of the several states, and dependent on them for re-election, will be vigilant in supporting their rights against infringement by the legislative or executive of the United States."

In other words, the Senate was seen by the framers as one of the principal bodies protecting the states from massive federal overreach. If the Senate allowed the federal government to do something crazy like building projects directly for the counties then the states would pull their Senators and Federalism would be preserved. If, on the other hand, the Senate becomes just another House, but statewide, then its occupants are better served using pork to buy votes for reelection.

This brings me to another problem with the amendment. The Senate has become much more a rarefied institution since passage. You might expect that the good ol' boy network in the state legislature would be more likely to pick a career politician for the Senate than the people would. You would be wrong. The state legislature is a rather small club. Chances are they all know each other and chances are very good that whomever the majority of them send to the Senate they actually know, at least by reputation. They're going to pick someone who will actually try to accomplish what they think the state needs and protect the rights of the state. The populous of the state is another matter. To get a majority election in the state the most important thing is money and government experience to get the right contacts. As a result, since the passage of the amendment (and actually a bit before since several states found ways to popularly elect them before passage) the Senate has become a very rich club that is very unlikely to be recalled, so long as they can continue to bring home the bacon to the right constituent groups.


Brian said...

Interesting post. If you are interested in more information concerning the 17th Amendment, please check out my weblog, Repeal the 17th Amendment. I have a number of scholarly articles posted on the right side concerning the history and the consequences of the amendment.

Best regards,

Christopher said...

The contents of your blog seem mainly to be information about Senators, which are politically somewhat interesting, but not really related to the Amendment.

The links to papers, however, are fantastic. Particularly this one.