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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Gene Healy: Repeal the 17th Amendment?

Being a watcher of the Glenn Beck program on FOX News Channel, this issue was brought up either earlier this year or sometime last year during Obama's first year in office. This isn't entirely a new idea and this column isn't the first I've heard of it:
"Let the state legislatures appoint the Senate," Virginia's George Mason urged at the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, lest a newly empowered federal government "swallow up the state legislatures." The motion carried unanimously after Mason's remarks.

So it's probably fitting that it's a George Mason University law professor, Todd Zywicki, who has done the best work on the 17th Amendment's pernicious effects.

Zywicki shows that selection by state legislatures was a key pillar of the Constitution's architecture, ensuring that the Senate would be a bulwark for decentralized government. It's "inconceivable," Zywicki writes, "that a Senator during the pre-17th Amendment era would vote for an 'unfunded federal mandate.' "

In the grade-school morality tale offered by Egan and others, noble Progressives pushed the amendment as an antidote to corruption. Yet Zywicki found "no indication that the shift to direct election did anything to eliminate or even reduce corruption in Senate elections."

Indeed, "the increased power of special interests was the purpose of the 17th Amendment," Zywicki writes. "It allowed them to lobby senators directly, cutting out the middleman of the state legislatures."

Maybe that's why corporations and urban political machines -- Progressives' supposed enemies -- supported the amendment.

Together with the 16th Amendment establishing an income tax, the 17th Amendment helped transform the states into little more than administrative units for the federal behemoth. The feds have the gold, and they increasingly make the rules -- in education, health care, and more.
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Unfortunately, repealing the 17th Amendment would be almost impossible. Since Congress won't propose the repealing amendment, you would need two-thirds of the states to call for an amending convention -- something that has never happened.

And repeal might not change anything. By 1913, more than half of the states had already adopted mechanisms that effectively bound state legislators to the voters' choice, and it's hard to imagine their 21st century counterparts ignoring the people's will in senatorial selection. "Democracy is popular," Zywicki notes dryly.

Repealing the 17th is a noble but quixotic goal. However, by focusing on the damage that amendment did, the Tea Partiers have drawn much-needed attention toward the problems that plague us. And diagnosis, one hopes, is the first step toward an eventual cure.
OK, so it's unlikely that the 17th Amendment will be repealed. US Congress isn't eager to put such an amendment on the agenda and two-thirds of the states have NEVER called for an amending convention. We have a long way to go on this issue.

You know when Ousted governor was arrested in Dec. 2008 one of the charges against him was attempting to auction President Obama's old US Senate seat. The corruption this article refers to was someone was able to bribe a state legislature to get his Senate seat. Thus the change where a US Senator is directly elected by the people.

Back to Blagojevich (Ousted governor) well we see other changes to the Constitution. Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold has proposed an amendment where a vacating US Senater (at least before his term is up or due to death) must be elected in a special election. Personally I would support allowing the state legislature in making the appointment or the Governor can make the appointment upon the approval of the state legislature. Almost similar to how the President of the United States can only appoint people but with the confirmation of the US Senate.

You know that idea could go a long way to restoring the states to prominence in the Federal system even if it's a bit weak. For right now however "democracy" is still popular. Not to sound "anti-democracy", however, I want to note that we're a "republic" and this country isn't like Britain in so far that whoever wins the majority in Parliament rules. We need to define or at least redefine what exactly this country is and what role the sovereign states have and the role of the federal government.

Via Instapundit!

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