Repeal the 17th Amendment
January 9, 2013 4 Comments
Many of us were not entirely happy with the resolution of the Fiscal Cliff melodrama. What was particularly striking was the lopsided margin of passage in the United States Senate. Both Richard Burr and Greensboro’s own Kay Hagan voted in favor.
How could the United States have veered so distant from its founding principles over the last century? One of the biggest factors was the ratification of the 17th Amendment during 1913. This revision to the U.S. Constitution enabled the direct election of United States Senators by the people. Previously, Senators had been elected by the individual state legislatures.
Why was this change undertaken? First, there was concern that the individual state legislatures engaged in corruption when selecting whomever would serve in the Senate. Second, inexplicably some Senate seats went unfilled for a time because of delays in the state legislatures.
The previous system reinforced the Founders’ federalist design, because the individual Senator was to be chosen by the duly elected legislature within each given state. He was to be a reflection of that individual state government within the United States Senate. It is important to note that rural areas had more influence under this arrangement.
The Founders’ vision was for a highly deliberative United States Senate that would hold in check the unrestrained democratic impulses of the House of Representatives.
What has been the outcome since the adoption of the 17th Amendment? The effect was profound. Cities became much stronger politically. Individual Senators had to systematically and repeatedly bow before interest groups that tend to demand increased spending and an increased federal role. They also bave tended to acquiesce with the expectations of the media/left complex. But individual Senators typically don’t hesitate to fund unconstitutional activities, or to aggressively redistribute income. They often approve activist Supreme Court justices who engineer more power for the federal government; and who manufacture new “rights” nearly out of thin air.
Look at what happened with the Fiscal Cliff deal, which passed by a margin of 89-8 in the Senate. It is little wonder that writer P.J. O’Rourke once called the United States Congress a “parliament of whores”.
In retrospect, passage of the 17th Amendment was a huge mistake. Did we eliminate corruption in the United States Senate by instituting popular elections? Of course not! Compared with the mess we now have, was it truly such a major problem that individual senate seats went unfilled for a period of time? Those who engineered the 17th Amendment solved a couple of lesser problems by creating a much bigger problem.
I think the best possible course of action would be to repeal the 17th Amendment. But the next best option would be to pass a constitutional amendment requiring term limits. If we had term limits, United States Senators should be limited to one six-year term only.
Richard Burr and Kay Hagan both have amply demonstrated the wisdom of making some changes.
Dr. Joe Guarino is a Guardian columnist.