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May 12, 2004

Repeal the 17th Amendment?

Zell Miller, a fine Democrat and extraordinarily solid senator, is retiring this year. He is also calling for the repeal of the 17th Amendment. Bruce Bartlett writes:

On April 28, Sen. Miller, the last genuinely conservative Democrat we will likely ever see in the Senate, laid the blame for what ails that august body at the door of the 17th amendment to the Constitution. This is the provision that provides for the popular election of senators.

Few people today know that the Founding Fathers never intended for senators to be popularly elected. The Constitution originally provided that senators would be chosen by state legislatures. The purpose was to provide the states — as states — an institutional role in the federal government. In effect, senators were to function as ambassadors from the states, which were expected to retain a large degree of sovereignty even after ratification of the Constitution, thereby ensuring that their rights would be protected in a federal system. . . .

When senators represented states as states, rather than being super House members as they are now, they zealously protected states’ rights. This term became discredited during the civil-rights struggle of the 1960s as a code word for racism — allowing Southern states to resist national pressure to integrate. But clearly this is an aberration. States obviously have interests that may conflict with federal priorities on a wide variety of issues that defy easy ideological classification. Many states, for example, would probably enact more liberal laws relating to the environment, health, and business regulation if allowed by Washington.

Senator Miller's idea -- in our time when most if not all Democrats and at least some Republicans seem to believe that the federal government is the most logical vehicle to solve virtually all putative problems -- will undoubtedly have no legs whatsoever. But if repealing the 17th Amendment would carve back the power of the federal government, I'd certainly be all for it.

Posted by Old Benjamin at 09:02 PM | Permalink


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