Was the 17th Amendment a Mistake?

After Senate Republicans failed to pass a bill last week repealing major parts of Obamacare, including the individual mandate, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee sent an interesting tweet that has been given a lot of attention.

In an age when a lot of people probably couldn’t even tell you who their own representatives are, I would not expect most people to know about the 17th Amendment and how it changed the way Senators are elected. To save you having to Google it, the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913 and established the election of Senators by the people. Previously, Senators were elected by state legislatures.

To my mind, the 17th Amendment is just another nail in federalism’s coffin.

When the Founders wrote the Constitution one of their concerns was the preservation and protection of state’s rights. The federal government was never, ever intended to be the monstrosity it is today, with so much assumed power and control over the populace that the type of light bulbs in your home and the amount of water your toilet can flush are dictated to you under threat of prison. Election of Senators by state legislatures was intended to give states a role in the checks and balances of our Constitution. Senators were intended to be representatives of the states and be responsive to the will of the state legislatures. 

As an example of how this original system would change things today, were it still in effect, let’s take a look at the current composition of state legislatures. According to Ballotpedia, as of July 5th this year there are eighteen state legislatures controlled by the Democratic Party and thirty-one controlled by the Republican Party. Nebraska’s legislature is unicameral, but the Republicans currently outnumber the Democrats by a two to one advantage. With these numbers in mind it’s likely that without the 17th Amendment in effect there would be sixty-four Republicans in the Senate and only thirty-six Democrats. 

Would things be different in the Senate, were it not for the 17th Amendment? I think it’s safe to say absolutely, yes. No doubt, there would be some state legislatures that would continue to send the same career politicians to the Senate, term after term after term. But I believe enough state legislatures would elect representatives to the Senate who would protect the will of their state, rather than a national party or other group, that would mean disastrous legislation like Obamacare would never have been passed in the first place.

Governor Huckabee’s call for the repeal of the 17th Amendment is wasted breath. It’s not going to happen. If there was a serious movement started to move the election of Senators from the people back to the state legislatures, the public outcry would be overwhelming. An outcry that I believe would display an ignorance of our Constitution and the original intent of our Founders. Much like the movement that has gained strength in recent years to eliminate the Electoral College in favor of a national popular vote deciding the presidency. Just another movement designed to destroy federalism and take power away from the states.

Hamilton and Madison are rolling in their graves.

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