Todd Zywicki: Repeal the Seventeenth Amendment





[Mr. Zywicki is a George Mason University Foundation professor of law and a senior scholar of the Mercatus Center. He has written several law-review articles examining the history and impact of the Seventeenth Amendment.]

Joe Miller, Alaska’s Republican nominee for the United States Senate, recently expressed support for an idea that is rapidly gaining steam in Tea Party circles: the repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment. Miller subsequently backtracked from his statement, but he shouldn’t have: Repealing the Seventeenth Amendment would go a long way toward restoring federalism and frustrating special-interest influence over Washington.

Ratified in 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment replaced the election of U.S. senators by state legislators with the current system of direct election by the people. By securing the Seventeenth Amendment’s ratification, progressives dealt a blow to the Framers’ vision of the Constitution from which we have yet to recover.

The Constitution did not create a direct democracy; it established a constitutional republic. Its goal was to preserve liberty, not to maximize popular sovereignty. To this end, the Framers provided that the power of various political actors would derive from different sources. While House members were to be elected directly by the people, the president would be elected by the Electoral College. The people would have no direct influence on the selection of judges, who would be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate to serve for life or “during good behavior.” And senators would be elected by state legislatures....



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