Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Down with the 17th

For years the federal government has had carte blanche to enact laws and implement policies that have slowly whittled away that which made our form of representative republicanism so unique. From the Patriot Act to the Brady Bill, from the abortion debate to the fight for legitimizing gay marriage, from Bush v Gore to United States v Morrison, the federal government has been in a ravenous power grab as it snatches up control like a rabid Pac-Man. Meanwhile, the very people that the Constitution was written to protect have signed off on the power grab like so many sheep being led to slaughter. The Police said it perfectly; “Pack black lemmings into shiny metal boxes, contestants in a suicidal race.”

Time has come to end destruction of the autonomy of the states. Time has come for the people to regain their birth right. Time has come for the people to extract their collective craniums from their collective rectums and reign in the monster we have created.

Some have claimed that the downward spiral of America can be linked back to August 18, 1920 when women won the right to vote. I think it goes back further…to 1913.

So I’ve stumbled upon the perfect solution. Abolish the 17th Amendment. Now I’m by no means the first to forward this idea or by any stretch of the imagination the most prominent (unless you count my two regular readers) but I’m a patriot who has a vision and wishes a return to the days of yore when our federal government was fairly limited in its control over the states.

Enacted in 1913, Am. XVII states; “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.”

Before the adoption of Am. XVII U.S. Senators were appointed by the legislative bodies of the individual states. Article I, section 3, clause 1 of the Constitution states, “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.”

Correct me if I’m wrong but Am. XVII is the first amendment that directly obliterates a clause from the original Constitution. Other amendments, such as the XI, XII, XIII, XVI, XX, XVI, and XVII Amendments, have modified some original clauses, but none has erased the precursor so completely. (Arguably Am. XVIII which imposed the graduated income tax vacated the non taxation clause but you could make the contention that Congress’ power to levy taxes also directly countermands that clause also but that’s another argument for another day.)
What, pray tell, does all this mean? Simple, the founding fathers saw the Senate as a direct check on federal power. The appointing of senators was seen as a more accurate barometer of the political will of the states than a direct election would be. The legislators on the state level are far more cognizant of ramifications of the actions of the most powerful arm of Congress. And the architects of the Constitution knew this. The Senate has sole power to try articles of impeachment, approve the appointments of Supreme Court Justices and Cabinet officers, and ratify treaties. This is an enormous responsibility. Alexander Hamilton said it best in Federalist No. 65, “The convention, it appears, thought the Senate the most fit depositary of this important trust. Those who can best discern the intrinsic difficulty of the thing, will be least hasty in condemning that opinion, and will be most inclined to allow due weight to the arguments which may be supposed to have produced it”.

Since 1913 many legislative battles have been fought and the majority of Senators on the front lines have been chosen by an ill-informed populace instead of being hand picked by the state legislators. Before the ratification of Am. XVII the Supreme Court was a fairly restrained body whose justices fully appreciated the Pandora’s Box that accompanies tampering with states’ rights. It’s no accident that the overall quality of Supreme Court Justices has gone down hill since 1913. Yes there is Thurgood Marshal, Felix Frankfurter, Byron White, Hugo Black, Benjamin Cardozo, and Antonin Scalia but the blood lines have run thin in 20th century jurisprudence. Before the full effects of Am. XVII could be felt titans such as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Louis Brandeis, John Marshal, Joseph Story, and John Harlan shaped Constitutional law and were all appointed before the Senate was subject to the constantly changing winds of public opinion. Then there’s the myriad of ultimately foolish international treaties approved by the Senate as well as the botched appointment of Robert Bork who was torpedoed by a puritanical Senate despite a nearly spotless judicial record…hence the coining of the verb “borked”.

It’s obvious the U.S. Senate has a unique purpose and has been entrusted with monumental responsibilities. It is also obvious that this most influential of Congressional houses through its powers has trampled on states’ rights. The reason for this is the states have lost their voice. The people have their federal legislative body in the House of Representatives but the states don’t. Give the states back their voice and you’ll quell the monster that runs rough shod over the Constitution. Give the Senate back to the states and all will be right with the world. I hope.