Zell Miller endorses repeal of the 17th

via Atrios, comes news that pseudo-Democrat Zell Miller has publicly announced his support for repealing the 17th Amendment:

"It is the system that stinks. And it's only going to get worse because that perfect balance our brilliant Founding Fathers put in place in 1787 no longer exists."

The Constitution called for voters to directly elect members to the U.S. House but empowered state legislatures to pick senators. The aim was to create a bicameral Congress that sought to balance not only the influence of small and large states but also the influence of state and federal governments.

I've no love for Zell Miller but for once he has a point - which I've made myself a few times as well[1]. The problem with direct election of Senators is that it makes the Senate vulnerable to the same special interest lobbies that dominate the House. Your Senators do not, strictly speaking, represent you; they represent the State you live in.

Because Senators are not appointed, the States themselves have lost much of their power. This has direct cost - for example, unfunded mandates from Congress sail through the Senate, because it looks good for them to say they voted for No Child Left Behind - while even Republican governors in their home state cry foul over the federal interference.

In Atrios' comments section there's a lot of reactionary alarmism about how repealing the 17th would deliver the Senate to the GOP. This is pretty defeatist an attitude, with the basic assumption that all state legislatures are partisan-right majorities lacking any evidence. The more important point however is that the removal of special interests from directly influencing the Senate campaigns overrides any theoretical temporary partisan advantage.

There is a legitimate controversy and debate over the issue and I'd like to appeal to any fellow liberals not to reject the idea just because Zell proposed it, but to actually follow up on the topic yourselves. Here are some links culled form my previous posts that I think make the case quite cogently.

The full text of the 17th Amendment

CNN FindLaw discussion by John W. Dean (of Watergate fame and author of the new book, Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush)

Argument based on checks and balances within the Constitution

[1] Here are my earlier posts that address the topic: tyranny of the majority, tyranny of the minority; reclaiming the label "republican"; repeal the 17th Amendment?

Yes, in those posts I do quote Steven den Beste, Glenn Reynolds, and Eugene Volokh. I think the idea has merit irrespective of the ideological leanings of those who have discussed it. The immediate impact of repealing the 17th would IMHO be a cleansing of special interests' power upon the political process, and as a liberal, I find that to be within my ideological imperatives.

No comments: