Friday, April 8, 2011

Happy Birthday, 17th Amendment

On April 8, 1913, the 17th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified when Connecticut provided the decisive vote. The amendment requires electing U.S. senators by popular vote. Previously, the Constitution provided that state legislatures would elect senators. (Article I, section 3). The amendment reads: 

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.

In some conservative circles, there is a move to repeal the amendment in hopes of giving more power to state legislatures. I have a difficult time understanding the rationale. The 17th Amendment resulted from the efforts of a populist movement to give more power to the voters. I would have assumed that this move toward greater democracy would have received applause.

In addition, during the last half of the 19th century, state legislatures frequently deadlocked over the decision of whom to appoint to the post. Partisan politics and special interests crippled the system. By the early 1900s, as many as 29 states had found ways to  circumvent the original  process and effectively let the voters pick  senators.


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