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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Step One: Repeal the 17th Amendment

The first item in my list of steps to The Plan to Restore Our States is to repeal the 17th Amendment. Lets take a look at why this is so important and what the unwanted side effects of the 17th Amendment have been.

The 17th Amendment altered the existing Constitution by declaring that the U. S. Senate was elected by popular vote in each state. Previously the Senators had been selected by the State Legislation of their respective states. Because the amendment is nearly 100 years old now, the idea of an office such as a U. S. Senator being appointed, without the voice of the people, is a very alien concept to most.

First you must understand that there is no ‘filler’ in the Constitution, every word and line was fiercely debated and agonized over. When the Founding Fathers said that the Senators were to be appointed, it wasn’t an offhand decision. It was a check and balance.

Think of the early Federal government as a three sided table. The President with his Cabinet represented the Executive Branch on one side. The Legislative Branch is the second side, comprised of the House and the Senate.

The House of Representatives, all popularly and democratically elected, represented the citizens in their small, manageable districts. They were the ‘Democratic’ part of the equation. The Senators, two from each state, were appointed by their State Legislators. These gave us the ‘Republic’ element, they represented the States in the Legislative Branch. Jefferson’s “Democratic Republic” was perfectly balanced.

And lastly there was the Judicial Branch which protected the Constitution.

James Madison explained in the Federalist Papers that the Legislative Branch was so large that it needed to be divided to keep it from over powering the other two. Many of the Founding Fathers worried about what they termed the “Tyranny of the Majority.” They feared the ability of the 51% to endanger the liberties of the remaining 49%. Having a divided Legislative Branch chosen in two very different ways was a check against this possibility.

The Representatives safeguarded the needs of the people and made sure they kept their freedoms, but still had order and safety. The Senators safeguarded the needs of the States, keeping the Federal government from assuming too much power unto itself. The President created a unifying vision for the country and united face for foreign relations.

The 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913 during the Woodrow Wilson presidency. Wilson was probably one of the most Progressive presidents America had seen up to that point and was a strong believer in a large, powerful Federal government.

So what happened to the balance of our three sided table? With the Senators no longer dependant on the State for their office, they no longer felt obligated to protect its sovereignty. Being elected like the House of Representatives, they acted like Representatives but without a District to represent. The special interests realized that they had a ready ear in the Senators and descended on them with money and perks. In values and ideals, the Senate moved to the Executive Branch side of the table and all balance was lost.

The meteoric rate of growth in the Federal government can be traced back to this moment in US history, the passing of the 17th Amendment. The States had been pushed away from the table and no longer had a direct influence over the direction taken by the Federal government. Now the table held representation for the People, the Nation and the Lobbyists.

The Lobbyists and the Executive Branch found that they had many common interests, mostly in the realm of larger government, tax loopholes and corporate welfare. The three sided table had become quite unbalanced with two of the three side trying to grow the Federal government to the detriment of the States’ sovereignty.

Supreme Court Justice Scalia said of the 17th Amendment recently, “The 17th Amendment has changed things enormously. We changed that in a burst of progressivism in 1913, and you can trace the decline of so-called states’ rights throughout the rest of the 20th century. So, don’t mess with the Constitution.”

Reversing the 17th Amendment would be one of the most significant steps we could take in restoring States’ rights. But that would take a super majority of two thirds in both the House and the Senate. The repeal could possibly pass the House, they would enjoy being the sole representatives of the the people again.

But why would the Senate pass the end of its own gravy train? They would only do it if the vast majority of the people demanded it. It would also help if the States signaled they would be happy to re-appoint Senators who voted for it. If the States want their sovereignty back they will have to actively fight for it. Getting two thirds of the State Legislations to vote to repeal the 17th Amendment should also be pretty easy. It would be very much to their benefit.

But none of this will even come to the floor until there is a huge groundswell in the populace for the repeal. It will take concerted, focused grassroots effort to educate and motivate the public to demand such a law.

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