The Constitution divided power between two separate but co-equal governing bodies: the states and the national government. This division is called federalism and is so important that the flow of power away from the people cannot be preserved without it. It is the concept that in most things the states are not subordinate to the national government but in fact immune from it.
The national government was to handle mostly foreign concerns, and the states were to handle internal concerns. The states never surrendered any power that they felt they could manage and any new powers subsequently given required three-fourths of the states' permission, per Article V of the Constitution.
The Constitution then divided the power left at the national level into three branches of government: legislative, executive, and judicial branches, each a check on each other to prevent consolidation of power into one body. Collectively they were the national component while the states were the federal component hence the shared and equal concept known as federalism. Think of this relationship as a marriage, neither the servant of the other and each with different duties.
How would one know who had the power and when? Article I, Sec. 8 listed the powers of the national government and Amendment 10 noted that all other powers "belonged to the states and to the people." Who would keep the national government in its place due to their natural tendency to grow? The clarity of the document and the states themselves protecting the interests of their own people would do so by failing to comply when their partner in marriage overstepped boundaries. But one other step was critical: the creation of a bicameral legislature, one representing the people (the House of Representatives), the other the states (the Senate).
The Senate was never actually created to represent the people. Why would they create two legislative bodies doing the same thing? It was created to protect the needs of the states that indirectly protected the needs of its citizens. All law would be reviewed from two perspectives and both must be satisfied before enactment. James Madison explained, "No law or resolution can now be passed without the concurrence, first, of a majority of the people, and then of a majority of the states."
Today the states have no voice in the making of law, and federalism and freedom are dying proportionally because of who elects the senators. Initially, under the Constitution, the state legislatures selected their two U.S. Senators. These were individuals who were familiar with and loyal to state issues, and were usually one of their own, gifted in the articulation of their interests as well.
Today, because of the 17th Amendment, ratified early in the 20th Century, Senators are directly selected by the voters like their counterparts in the House and can appeal to solely popular perspectives and may know nothing of the state legislatures concerns of an overpowering national government. They may not even need to campaign in their state capital to get elected. For example, the national government has no constitutional jurisdiction over water use, or environmental issues within a state. A California senator should be arguing such in Washington, D.C., Without this voice, the national government moves into state areas of power pretty much at will and no other government is powerful enough to stop them.
By mandating that the people rather than the states select the U.S. Senators, the 17th Amendment undid the benefits of a bicameral legislature: one specifically oriented to the needs of the masses, and the other oriented to the needs of the states. The result, whether intended or not, did great damage to federalism and the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution which ensured federalism.
The only real solution to taking the Tenth Amendment off life support is to rescind the 17th Amendment. Although it may have enhanced democracy, it also removed from the states their voice in the U.S. Senate and hence the ever-increasing growth of government at liberty's expense.
Harold Pease has taught history and political science for over 25 years at Taft College. His website is Liberty Under Fire.
Note: The bold font was used by this blogger.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Return to framers' intent: Rescind 17th Amendment
Return to framers' intent: Rescind 17th Amendment; Community Voices; Harold Pease; The Bakersfield Californian