Repeal the 17th Amendment - Granite Grok

Repeal the 17th Amendment

US Senate - image credit US

The Constitution describes 3 branches of the federal government: the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial.  It also originally indicated that the rules to elect Senators and Representatives “… shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof” (emphasis mine) and that Senators were elected by each State’s Legislature.

The 17th Amendment changed that by eliminating the State legislature’s control over the method of election of Senators – and thus changed the entire purpose of a Senate.

The easiest way to think about this is to understand that each State’s 3 branches “mirrors” the 3 branches in the Constitution.  Each State has a Legislature made up of “lower” and “upper” chambers (Representatives and Senators, regardless of what they’re called).  The number of Representatives in each district is almost always based on the population in those districts, with districts shaped (and occasionally re-shaped) by the State’s legislature.  The number of Senators and the areas they represent typically have fixed and unchanging boundaries.

Local elections determine lower chamber representatives (House members) for each district.  Local elections also determine upper chamber representatives (Senators), who very often represent multiple districts.  This is a way to allow both local and statewide interests to be brought to each State’s Legislature: House members are (well, should be) most interested in what their local districts want, and Senators are (well, should be) most interested in what’s best on a statewide basis.

Hence, in a State-level bicameral legislature, the two interests – district-level and state-level – are only capable of creating or changing state-level laws when both Houses agree on a bill.  A governor – the elected leader of the state’s Executive branch – then either signs or vetoes that bill.  And the Judicial branch can determine that a bill, if passed by the state Legislature and signed by the Governor, is unconstitutional on its face and expunge it from enforcement.

The three branches provide the needed balance to ensure that the citizens of the State are represented by those they elected to write law, those they elected to enforce law, and those they elected (sometimes directly, sometimes by the action of the legislature or the executive branches) to determine whether laws are permitted under the Constitution.  (Let’s save the 10th Amendment for another discussion).

Now, let’s examine the federal government.  Upon entering the compact known as the United States of America, each State agrees to send a certain number of Representatives and Senators to the seat of the federal government.  The number of Representatives is set by population and distribution – just as in each state.  The federal Constitution determines the number of Senators to represent each State (currently 2).

Keeping it simple for now, the federal House of Representatives is charged with writing laws related to the finances of the United States, while the federal Senate is charged with writing other laws.  Both the House and the Senate must agree on the text of a law before it can be sent to the President for signature.  And the Supreme Court is charged with ensuring the constitutionality of those laws.

Note how the organization of State governments “mirrors” the organization of the federal government.  The President – the person who “presides” over the United States – signs federal laws that affect the United States as a whole, just as a state governor signs laws that affect that State.  The Supreme Court determines Constitutionality for federal laws just as each State judicial branch determines constitutionality of state-level laws.

To reflect voter interests, voters in each state choose representatives for the federal House of Representatives based on “congressional districts”, much the same way as local representatives are elected to the state legislatures from local districts.  Those representatives bring the State’s district-level interests to the federal House of Representatives for discussion.

At the federal level, the Senate was meant as a way for the state legislatures to determine State-level interests to be discussed at the federal level.  Each State’s legislature would elect representatives to the Senate.  Each State’s legislature would send instructions to its Senators, and each State’s legislature would ensure that state-level interests were being addressed.  Why?  The job of a Senator was to represent the State’s interest as determined by the State’s legislature, and not by popular assent – which sometimes does not reflect the best interests of the state as a whole.

The 17th Amendment unbalanced this equation by removing the State legislature from determining which State-level interests were discussed in the federal Senate.  Without that balance, we now have a situation where a State legislature, which is the body that agreed to the compact known as the “United States”, has no way to express State-level interests to the federal government.

The model is broken.  Senators now directly respond to individual voters instead of State legislatures.  Is it any wonder that a Senator gets a load of grief when saying that a proposed law “is not good for my state” – when that is actually the job of a Senator?

Note that the President of the United States is not elected by popular vote, but by the Electoral College – which represents the will of State legislatures, just as federal Senators were originally to be elected by State legislatures.

The 17th Amendment, which moved the election of federal Senators from the State legislators directly to the voters, should be repealed.  The original model should be reinstated, wherein State-level interests – as determined by each State legislature – are brought to the Federal government for discussion.  Those State-level interests would then be pitted against the interests of other States – as determined by their legislatures – and where agreement would reflect the common interests of state legislatures.