Interest in the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution continues to grow as citizens and state and local government officials consider ways to protect their authority from federal intrusion. From Louisiana to New Hampshire to Washington state, 10th Amendment legislation is being crafted and approved to veto federal regulations and orders regarding firearms, medical marijuana, cap and trade, education, the sending of a state’s National Guard to war, health care, and more.
It should be clear from the items on the list above that a federal government of limited powers is not simply a concern peculiar to conservatives; liberals too have reason to resuscitate local governance. And one of the very best ways to help revive decentralization, in addition to nullification, is to repeal the 17th Amendment.
Until 1913, when the 17th Amendment was ratified, the citizens of the states elected U.S. senators indirectly: Voters elected the state legislators, and they in turn selected U.S. senators. From 1913 onward, voters have directly elected U.S. senators in statewide elections.
This change has led to a number of negative results, including
-Vastly increased federal power and vastly decreased state, local, and personal authority due to the state governments losing their representation in the federal government;
-The domination of Senate elections (and legislation) by forces outside of the particular states wherein elections are being held, e.g., out-of-state donations, political party operatives, and campaign consultants; and
-A decline of the influence of individual voters and small, local associations of voters over who is selected to be a senator from their state.
Under the 17th’s statewide electoral system, the individual voter is small and isolated, only one out of thousands or, in many cases now, millions of voters casting ballots. His influence in the election is marginal.
Now, repeal the 17th, and you amplify this individual’s influence many times over. For instead of one voice attempting to be heard over every other voter’s voice in the state, he is now one voice in the much smaller group of voters who reside in the districts of his state legislators, who would select the U.S. senator.
Individuals and small associations matter little to the statewide candidate but are important to the state representative and state senator who actually lives among them, knows them, and is known by them. The state legislator must take them and their views seriously, regarding Senate elections and other legislative matters, for they hold great
electoral power over him. So individuals and small, local groups would grow more influential in U.S. Senate elections if the 17th were repealed, and outside interests less so.
With repeal would come three other benefits. First, a U.S. Senate representing the state governments would likely mean the end of many of the federal mandates and programs that currently stifle policy innovation, mandate uniformity, and strangle budgets in states,
A crazy quilt of locally devised laws stretching across the United States may nauseate the federal bureaucrat who delights in the efficiency resulting from bland uniformity, but it would be pleasing to the citizens who would live under the aegis of those laws. Repealing the 17th would allow liberal, moderate, libertarian, and conservative communities to live under the laws of their own choosing rather than the choosing of the imperial few (of whatever political philosophy) in D.C.
Second, state legislatures endowed with the high responsibility of selecting U.S. senators, not to mention creating policy in fields newly freed from the rule of D.C., would naturally attract the more capable men of society to seek these offices (though unfortunately the more power hungry too), as it is with federal offices now.
Third, indirect elections generally result in well qualified candidates filling the positions in question. This is as true of U.S. Supreme Court justices chosen by the president as it was of U.S. senators chosen by state legislatures. It is no accident that the preeminent U.S. senators in our history – e.g., Randolph, Calhoun, Clay, Webster, etc. – all appeared prior to the 17th, while demagogues like Sen. Schumer and hollow men like Sens. Bayh and Frist have filled the Senate after its ratification.
Decentralization is an essential element for restoring self-government (and good government in general) in the United States. And U.S. senators chosen by state legislatures would be a tremendous boon to decentralization. Repeal the 17th Amendment; restore liberty. All citizens would be the beneficiaries.
Walt Garlington is the founder of the Louisiana State Sovereignty Committee.
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