The IUSB Vision Weblog

The way to crush the middle class is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation. – Vladimir Lenin

Tony Blankley: Repeal the 17th Amendment

Posted by iusbvision on February 15, 2010

The 17th amendment allows you to vote for Senators. Yes believe it or not for most of our history Senators served at the pleasure of the state legislature.

One might think off the cuff, “thats a good thing, I like picking my senator” but in reality it created problems that actually made the Senate less responsive to you, the voter in the state.

As it stands now people from other states, special interests from other states and in some cases foreign money get involved in your state senate race as cross state donations for Senate are massive. The corrupt Chris Dodd from Connecticut had a massive campaign war chest and almost all of it was from out-of-state interests.

As an individual voter, I cannot sway my senator worth a darn with a phone call, but if they were answerable to the state legislature I could call up Jackie Walorski or Joe Zakas locally and have a voice that will be much more responsive.

With the 17th amendment one party can sweep an election and vote themselves and their allies money out of the public treasury. This is happening right now with the corrupt spending in earmarks, stimulus bills etc.

State and local interests were represented in the Congress by the Senators who served at the pleasure of your home state, now Senators vote for things that are out of the interests of you and the state you live in regularly. The teeth of the check and balance of federalism that the Founders put into the Constitution by having the Senators serve at the pleasure of the state legislatures was removed with the 17th amendment. Before the 17th was passed, if a Senator voted against local interest or inappropriately increased the power of the central government over the local government they didn’t stay a senator for long.

UPDATE October 2010 – With that said there may be a way to deal with the unintended consequences of the 17th without repealing it. One good way to put some teeth back into federalism is to pass a new amendment that gives a 60% majority of states the power to repeal any act of Congress. The 9th Circuit is out of control and issued a judgment just days before the election saying that Arizona cannot attempt to determine of registered voters are citizens. Now the Supreme Court of course will reverse this ruling, but not in time for the election. The 9th is famous for stunts like this. To fix this for example 60% of the states could pass a resolution striking down the judicial act of Congress that created the 9th Circuit – WHAM all those judges are instantly out of a job. That’s teeth.

Tony Blankley at Rasmussen Reports:

As I was preparing to write a column on the ludicrous maligning of the Tea Party movement by liberals, Democrats and the mainstream media (which I hope to write next week, instead), I started thinking about one of the key objectives of the Tea Party people — the strict enforcement of the 10th Amendment (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”).

As an early 1960s vintage member of the then-new conservative movement, I remember us focusing on the 10th amendment during the 1964 Goldwater campaign. It has been a staple of conservative thought, and the continued dormancy of 10th amendment enforcement has been one of the failures of our now half-century-old movement.

But just as the Tea Party movement in so many ways seems to represent the 2.0 version of our movement, so I again thought about the 10th amendment anew. After about 10 seconds’ thought, it struck me that the best way to revive the 10th Amendment is to repeal the 17th Amendment — which changes the first paragraph of Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution to provide that each state’s senators are to be “elected by the people thereof” rather than being “chosen by the Legislature thereof.” (As I Googled the topic, I found out that Ron Paul and others have been talking about this for years. It may be the only subject that could be proposed and ratified at a constitutional convention with three-fourths of the state legislatures.)

At first blush, this might seem counterintuitive, as the 17th Amendment was brought about by a populist movement supercharged by muckraking articles in the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst. Those articles exposed corporate bribery of state legislators to control senatorial votes. As the direct election of senators by the people was a reaction to the corrupt lobbying of state legislatures that so aggrieved late-19th-century Americans, it might seem odd to recommend its repeal now — when again, corrupt lobbying and the aggrandizing of excessive government power over the people is part of the fuel that is driving the tea parties. It certainly seems particularly odd for me to suggest this just a week after the election of Scott Brown to the Senate by an aggrieved public that has just overwhelmed with their individual votes the Boston Democratic machine.

But in my defense, let me initially note that the 17th amendment has not yet ended the legal but appalling bribery of U.S. senators — it has merely moved it to Washington. Senators today succumb far too often to such influence — whether from the White House, the leaders of the Senate or national lobbying forces. Moreover, it has been since 1913, when the 17th Amendment was enacted into law, that the 10th Amendment increasingly began to be ignored.

The nature of our government is largely a product of political power being applied to lawmakers and executors. The U.S. Constitution remains in force to the extent that its arrangement of political power tends to be the happy byproduct of power’s self-interested exercise. The genius of our Founding Fathers was to recognize the inevitable victory of power over principle — and to so arrange the distribution of power that in that exercise of self-interest, offsetting forces would keep constitutionally guaranteed rights in existence nonetheless.

With episodic waxing and waning, that arrangement has worked reasonably well for over 200 years as among the separated powers of the three federal branches: Congress, the presidency and the Supreme Court.

It has almost completely failed as between the once sovereign states and the federal government. The sovereignty of the state was overturned (or, if one prefers, disproved) with the conclusion of the Civil War. The remaining states’ rights began to be undermined with the post Civil War 14th Amendment. Through expansive interpretations of the 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court progressively reduced states’ rights by nationalizing the Bill of Rights, starting in 1897 (Burlington & Quincy Railroad Co. v. Chicago); continuing in 1947 with Justice Hugo Black’s famous dissent in Adamson v. California; and concluding in 1961 when the court in Mapp v. Ohio totally incorporated the Bill of Rights to the states through the 14th Amendment’s due process clause.

For about a hundred years after the Civil War, defense of “states’ right’s” was most conspicuously made to defend continuing limitations on the rights of blacks. Thus, states’ rights were seen as a mere euphemism for a repugnant and retrograde proposition, and were therefore a weak banner under which to defend more noble political propositions.

As federal power was expanded at the expense of state rights in order to vindicate the rights of blacks (and, less visibly, to aggrandize other powers in Washington), a dangerous constitutional imbalance came into being regarding all federal/state jurisdictional matters.

The most efficient method of regaining the original constitutional balance is to return to the original constitutional structure. If senators were again selected by state legislatures, the longevity of Senate careers would be tethered to their vigilant defense of their state’s interest — rather than to the interest of Washington forces of influence.

The Senate then would take on its original function — the place where the states are represented in the federal government.

Senators still would be just as likely to be corrupted. But the corruption would be dispersed to the 50 separate state legislatures. The corruption more often would be on behalf of state interests. And its remedy would be achievable by the vigilance of voters for more responsive state legislative seats (typically, about less than 50,000 residences per state legislator), rather than Senate seats (the entire population of the state — usually millions.)

Only by changing the architecture of power will we change the shape and exercise of power.


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