Since 1913, the United States Constitution has been destroying states’ rights. While this was not always the case, nor the original intention and text, the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment fundamentally changed the Constitution by removing the states’ ability to protect their rights and privileges at the national level.
At the constitutional convention in Philadelphia, PA, our founders understood that in order to defray government overreach, they must limit and divide power between the national government, the states, and the people. As noted in the Tenth Amendment:
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” – 10th Amendment, United States Constitution
The Tenth Amendment thereby embodies the founders’ intention to ensure that those governments that are closest to the people – the states – would place a check on the power of the national government and promote individual liberty. If we are to restore our republic and protect the tenth amendment, as the founders intended, the Seventeenth Amendment must be repealed.
Running counter to these intentions, the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913 has eroded state power and led, as anticipated at the constitutional convention, to an unchecked national government that threatens our uniquely American way of life.
The framers’ original design for our national legislature was ingenious. We would have two legislative bodies; the House of Representatives, representing the popular will of the people; and the Senate, representing the interests of state governments.
While the House would strive to consolidate power at the national level by way of simple popular vote, the Senate would strive to decentralize power between the states. The Senate was thus formed in our national legislature to protect the people of one state against the will of the people in another. This structure of representation created the constant struggle necessary in government to enumerate the “separation of powers” principle we hold dear.
At the constitutional convention, George Mason declared, “The State Legislatures also ought to have some means of defending themselves against encroachments of the National Government.”[i]
The formation of the Senate is discussed in article 1, section 3 of the Constitution, and reads: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the legislature thereof….”
The Seventeenth Amendment altered this language to read: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof….” In substituting the words “elected” and “people” for “chosen” and “legislature,” the Seventeenth Amendment threw off the delicate balance of power between the states and the national government.
For the first 125 years of our republic, United States Senators were elected by the state legislatures of their respective states. Every six years state legislatures would gather and select their envoys to the national government. This provided the state legislatures with the ability to directly influence the laws, treaties, and judges of the national government.
At the forefront of any state legislator’s concern would be the protection of the powers and self determination of the people in their state. Because the job of a Senator depended on the election by the state legislature he or she would have the incentive to protect the power of the state legislature.
In the framers design, consider for a moment what may happen if a Senator were to cast a vote in Washington that would increase the power of the federal government at the expense of the state.
A fine example would be the federal government’s takeover of our education system. It is very unlikely that this Senator would be able to go back to his or her home state and be successfully re-elected after stripping the power of education away from the very state legislature that is charged with electing him. You could be sure under our framer’s original design of our constitution that the national government would not overstep its bounds of power.
The ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment under the Wilson administration fundamentally altered this relationship between the states and Washington. When the election of Senators was stripped from state legislators and turned over to the people, state governments lost all ability to protect their local interests from encroachment by the federal government.
Because a Senator’s election no longer depends on state legislatures, Senators need not concern themselves with protecting the laws and powers of their respective state legislatures. Since passage of the Seventeenth Amendment a Senator’s election merely depends on their ability to meet the whims of public opinion, in much the same manner as any member of the House of Representatives.
Today, under the Seventeenth Amendment, when a Senator casts a vote in Washington that would increase the power of the federal government at the expense of state legislatures, that Senator faces no repercussions. The state legislature that has been weakened by the Senator’s federal vote has no ability to unseat the Senator. The protection of states’ rights no longer comes into the consideration of a Senatorial campaign.
As a direct result of the Seventeenth Amendment, states no longer have any ability to participate in the national legislative process and protect state rights. If Congress proposes a bill that would effectively strip a state of one of its constitutionally reserved powers under the Tenth Amendment, how can a state counteract this? It cannot.
All fifty states currently claim responsibility and ownership over the issues of education, public safety, employment, healthcare, environmental policy, taxation, marriage, and property. Yet all of these issues are now increasingly directed and debated out of Washington, DC, not your state capitol. It is no coincidence that Washington, DC began its exponential growth and indifference to states’ rights following the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment.
If the election of senators were once again returned to state legislatures, the longevity of Senate careers would be tethered to their vigilant defense of their state’s interest – rather than to the interest of Washington.
The Seventeenth Amendment’s origin makes it imperative that support for its repeal must come from the grassroots. Now that the people have the power to elect their Senators, it will require a significant amount of education for people to realize that it is in their best interest to return this power to their state legislatures. For this reason, the repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment and protection of states’ rights deserves the Tea Party’s full attention.
Countless members of the Tea Party have already realized this and have championed the virtues of repealing the Seventeenth Amendment. Some of the most famous champions have included presidential candidate, Ron Paul; Governor Rick Perry; television host, Glen Beck; Alaska senate candidate Joe Miller; Fox news commentator, Judge Napolitano, and Idaho representative Raul Labrador. As the list of supporters continues to grow these leaders ought to be commended for their public devotion to states’ rights.
When Benjamin Franklin was asked after the constitution convention if a republic or monarchy had been formed, Franklin responded, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment must come to pass in order to restore power to the states and keep our republic. Though opposition will be obvious, and at times fierce, a grassroots battle for repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment must be waged.
[i] James Madison, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1966; reprint ed., U.S., Congress, House, Documents Illustrative of the Formation of the Union of the American States, ed. C.C. Tansill, H. Doc. 398, 69th Cong., 1st sess., [Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1927]), p. 87.