Daniel R. Quintiliani
February 21, 2011
CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication
Probably one of the toughest obstacles to repealing the 17th amendment is the fact that the careers of senators are put in jeopardy. Many people believe that a constitutional convention by the states is the only possible way to repeal the 17th amendment, which can also be viewed as too risky due to the fact that the Constitution and Bill of Rights might be tampered with. However, there is a very easy way to have a 17th repeal pass Congress.
The 17th amendment, as ratified in 1913, concludes with:
"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."
Since 1913, however, the structure of political power has changed quite a bit (which the 17th amendment helped alter). Within the past decade especially, it seems that Congress is heading more and more into a parliamentary system, in which the party rather than the politician has the vote. This is very apparent in the fact that some recent bills are hundreds or even thousands of pages, as was true of the Patriot Act and Obamacare, and are not being read by the politicians despite being passed into law.
While the 17th may have guaranteed senators a safe end to their career, a repeal of the 17th will leave the political parties and lobbyists scrambling to find a new strategy for levying their agenda.
It is for this reason that a repeal of the 17th amendment in the 21st century should take effect upon the death, resignation, or election loss of a senator rather than the end of the senator's current term. In other words, Senator X and Senator Y will remain senators so long as they continue to participate in and win popular elections.
This may be viewed as controversial, as depending on the voters' political views it could lead to a near infinite amount of terms guaranteed to senators. However, there are several benefits which are not
1. Increased voter turnout. As long as Senator X and Senator Y continue to win elections, the people will be happy that their “right to vote for senators” still exists so long as they continue to vote for their current senators. As a variety of elections and referendums take place on election years, people would vote for other candidates as well, and thus voter turnout would be greater.
2. Increased attention to state and local politics. State and local candidates are often ignored. If more people participate in these elections, they can learn not only about how their state's politics work, but also how their vote affects the state's choice in senators. Perhaps more will learn why their vote for senator isn't "counting" and senators will lose elections faster. Increased public involvement in state politics would discourage corruption at the state level, including corruption in Senate choices after the 17th is repealed. It would also help educate the public about their state government, its importance and necessity, and its role in our federalist system.
3. Professional and academic comparisons between elected and appointed senators. The effects of a repeal could be seen as it is happening. If California is still holding senate races, while Montana is not, the two states could be compared with regard to the influence of special interests, the size of the federal government, the focus on state politics, the durations of senators in office, and anything else a think tank, college, or pollster can come up with.
4. Special interests will inevitably push for resignations. As Lord Acton stated, power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. State politics are no exception, and special interests will corrupt the choice in senators as they had before the 17th. Once lobbyists have come up with ways to deal with the individual states, organizations and talking heads will slowly endorse resignations of senators once they are ready to attack.
While this proposal is radical and will leave many voters unhappy, such a transition will encourage ratification of a 17th repeal at the federal level, leaving the remainder of the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, safe and intact.