Tuesday, November 13, 2018

For a democratic, rather than autocratic, Senate

I have long been an advocate of radically reforming the senate by making it a trans-state office. Every ten million people should elect a senator - which means that, starting from Maine, there would have to be districts drawn that would swallow some states. The House of Representatives, I think, is the proper place for state-based representation.

However, the issue has been debated before. In the run-up to the 17th amendment, North American Review published an article surveying the many attempts to constitutionally reform the Senate that had been debated by states and Congress. The author of the survey, John William Perrin, was not an advocate, but a historian. This part of the article caught my eye:

"Two others of still different type have been proposed. On January 9th, 1882, Mr. Bayne, a member of the House from Pennsylvania, introduced a resolution for an amendment having the principle of representation found in the " plan of government " offered by Governor Edmund Randolph in the Convention of 1787. It favored doing away with the present basis of representation in the Senate and substituted a proportional one instead. Each State was to have two Senators as now, but for " each million of inhabitants in any State in excess of two million " an additional Senator was to be allowed. 

On January 17th, 1892, Mr. Miller, of Wisconsin, introduced a resolution which also provided for proportional representation. It differed from the Bayne resolution in that each State was to have
but one Senator, unless its population exceeded a million of  inhabitants. For each additional million in any State an additional Senator was to be allowed. "

What is interesting here is that the idea of the direct election of Senators, which finally resulted in the 17th amendment, was logically driven by the notion that no minority should hold governing power in the Congress, whether that minority was the state legislature that selected the Senator or the less populated state that exerted outsized power by putting two senators in the Senate. 

Conservatives, who take their Constitutional studies by listening to Rush Limbaugh, will insist that the U.S. is a republic. But any study of the constitution, which is an open and amendable document, will tell you that the U.S. is a democratic republic, and the logic of its evolution has been in the direction of greater, rather than less, democracy in its governance. Democracy doesn't mean majority rules - democratic culture, in order to make its process of election authentic, has to guard the rights of all, even minorities. There is a dialectical connection between the bill of rights and the democratization of the governing process. 

The senate as it is constituted now will fall. The only question is when. 

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