Clothahump: what's the problem with the 17th Amendment?

A question for Clothahump.

In this thread, you said you thought the 17th Amendment should be repealed. I was surprised because I didn’t think it was a controversial issue. I posted a question there but the OP asked me not to sidetrack that thread.

So why are you against the 17th Amendment? I’m not looking to argue the point because, quite frankly, I’ve never considered the issue before now. I’m just curious what your views are.

For those of you playing at home, the 17th Amendment:

Obviously, I can’t speak for Clothahump, but I know an ardent “repeal the 17th” fanatic (also wants to repeal the 16th) and his argument is that the U.S. ceased to be a “Republic” and became a “Democracy” under the 17th. The notion that the Senate represents the states while the House represents the people has been done away with. This (he says) makes the Congress “too reactive” and subject to the varying winds of popularity. Under the old system, the Senate was insulated from popular sentiment, and could thus act (he says!) as the nation’s conscience.

(Imagine if we had direct election of Supreme Court justices!)

I don’t completely agree with this analysis…but I don’t completely disagree with it either. Personally, I think the 17th was a good thing, as the Senate was too removed from responsibility to the people. Shrug.


I like the senate the way it is. It doesn’t destroy the idea of republicanism over raw democracy because each state gets two senators despite their huge differences in respective populations. That supports the idea that the states themselves have rights and also the idea that land area and everything within it should deserve a voice rather than just the sheer number of people crowded into rather small limited areas. The Senate doesn’t do the latter perfectly but it does it better than the House of Representatives does. I don’t care how few people live in Alaska, it is still a huge area that needs some type of proportionate representation coming from the people that live there rather than what people in New York City imagine it is like.

I didn’t know there were people opposed to the 17th amendment although I can barely understand the rationale. I am a moderate on the issue. I am firmly opposed to cries to make all of Congress proportional by population but I can rest easy no those that favor such a thing are yelling into the wind because of the practical impossibilities of that imposed by the Constitution and politics.

For what it’s worth, anti-17th Amendment sentiment goes back at least as far as the John Birch Society in the 1960s. Now it’s popular among Tea Partiers.

Does the anti-amendment (or strict constitutionalist) sentiment extend to all the amendments passed in the 1900s or just the 16th and 17th?

I obviously can’t speak for Clothahump either, but in my experience, replacing elections with a system where senators are selected in corrupt backroom deals by party hacks is one of the ways the far right wants to take the country back from politicians and put it back in the hands of the people.

Don’t ask how. (My guess is that it’s not really related to ideological principles so much as it is a way of saying “look at me! I’m extraordinarily conservative!!”)

I really doubt it extends to all of them, particularly the 22nd and 27th Amendments.

Near as I can tell, the thought process is “The Democrats control the Senate. This is bad. Maybe if senators were chosen some other way, they wouldn’t. Let’s choose them some other way.”.

Shagnasty, why on Earth should land area deserve a voice, beyond that given to the people living in it? It’s “We the People”, not “We the Acres”.

Okay, so there really is an anti-17th movement (I was thinking maybe it was a typo and he had meant some other amendment like the 14th).

Have to admit I don’t see it myself. I thought most conservatives were more of the “we the people” type and the last thing they’d want is to take a major power away from the voters and give it to a bunch of politicians, even if they’re state politicians.

Then isn’t the Senate a really crappy model, what with it giving a state like Vermont (which has fewer people than Alaska and only 1.5% the land area) an equal voice?

Considering that the only practical applications of machine politics are in Democrat controlled cities and states (e.g. Chicago, Maryland), your assertion seems unfounded.

It’s been going around in certain circles for a while, though. There were threads about the idea here in 2003 and 2005.

Apparently Clothahump has been interested in this amendment for some time, I found this post at the end of the 2005 thread:

Near as you can tell you are totally wrong. Hardcore States Rights advocates have been vehemently against the 17th for years, I’ve been seeing such sentiments on the internet since the 1990s all the way up through the present, including times when the GOP controlled the Senate.

As part of his craziness on secession and a return to Articles of Confederation style government it should go without saying Rick Perry supports a repeal of the 17th.

I do however agree that different regions should have some level of population-independent representation. However I’m in favor of appropriately proportional representation in the House (by capping it at 435 there is a problem, I’d advocate removing hard caps and then the large states have a fairer representation in the House and come Presidential election time.)

I think if you do that, things are good as they are with the Senate being state-based and disproportionate. With a really big, cultural diverse country if you had no institutions like Senators my worry is Roman Empire type stuff where some guy 3,000 miles away essentially lords over places he has no real understanding of or ability to properly run. You could avoid a lot of that just by keeping local rule on most issues and adhering to Federalism, but I think without some level of national representation states like Alaska or Idaho I do think there would be problems.

Also, too powerful a sense of States rights leads to American Civil War type stuff. However too weak a respect for them can lead to breakups, too.

If you look at the UK where traditionally there was no real home rule and London had disproportionate power over the entirety of the UK it isn’t surprising that you now have national legislatures that have been established and even moves from Scotland to get true independence.

Yes, Scotland is much smaller than England population-wise. It may even have fewer people than London. So yes, it deserved less representation in the UK’s Parliament, but over the past 200 years it basically lead to a people with a distinct cultural identity feeling like they had no say over their own destiny or even their own affairs, and instead they were being lorded over by an unresponsive central government in London.

Not being Scottish I don’t know how true any of that is, but it’s certainly the reasoning I’ve heard when people advocate for Scottish independence.

If we had no nod at all to the unique nature of the different States I do think the culturally distinct small states would want to pursue Scotland-type behavior and if they went about it peacefully instead of Fort Sumter style it would cause real problems.

I guess I’m not seeing this as a states rights issue. How are two senators chosen by the New York legislature a stronger defense of states rights than two senators chosen by the New York voters? Offhand, I’d say the people of New York best embody the state.

It’s not the land area but the idea that the individual states retain some sovereignty under federalism, and as such should be represented (and represented equally) in the Federal government. Direct election makes both houses the voice of the people; revocation of the 17th would put the choice of Senators back in the hands of the individual state governments, as it was until the Amendment was adopted.

ETA: This post reflects not my own opinion but my understanding of the anti-17th-ers’ views.

It’s not literally the land, but the people occupying that land. It’s an old argument: the power of high densities versus low densities. Different cultures, different values, all of which deserve to represented and protected.

My neighborhood best knows how we want to live.
My city has a good idea of what the neighborhoods want.
My county isn’t as in touch with me as my city or neighbors, but we have shared values and a way of life.
My state capital is way the hell removed from my daily life.
My national capital? Why should be like Belgium and not have a government at this level at all! What does the congressman representing a districts from New York City know about my wants and needs in my neighborhood in a small township in Michigan? He knows exactly what he should know: nothing.

If I’m understanding the anti-17th position correctly, they’re saying that the people should elect the members of the House of Representatives - these Congressmen represent the people. But the role of the Senators isn’t to represent the people of their state - a Senator’s job is to represent the government of his or her state.

Is there any analysis out there that tells us how the Senate would look like if we did repeal the 17th? I’m not advocating we do so, just wondering if it would really make much of a difference. CA, I can assure you, would still have 2 Democratic Senators and a Republican wouldn’t stand a chance. A hypothetical Republican would fare better in a popular election.