As we watch the continuing wrangling of Congress in attempting to pass a healthcare reform bill, it is important to review the effect that the seventeenth amendment is having on this issue.
The Constitution originally prescribed that the Senate would be composed of two members from each state elected by their state legislatures. The reasoning of the framers was that the House of Representatives represented the people n districts small enough to have personal contact with citizens. This direct representation offered direct input of citizens to the Federal government, but would also be prone to more public opinion pressure. The Senate however was to be a more deliberative body representing each of the states equally. The balancing of the House (representing the people) and the Senate (representing the states) was seen as an effective means of avoiding Federal encroachment into individual liberties and State sovereignty.
Public opinion was swayed by emotionally charged and flamboyant rhetoric from William Jennings Bryan and other respected leaders on the grounds that the state legislatures were corrupt and that the people were not represented by the Senate since they did not vote for them. This is one of those arguments that sounds good on the surface but is based on false premises. While it is true that the “people” are not directly represented by legislatively elected Senators, they do have very direct control of who those legislators are, and should be electing those to that state body who adequately represent them. That would include legislative choices for Senate candidates. The second false premise is the assumption that the purpose of the Senate is to represent the people rather than the state. That was not the Constitutional purpose at all. The Senate was to give equal representation of each state. Since it was the states who were to be represented in the Senate, it should be the states who selected them.
How would the Senate of today differ if Senators were selected by state legislatures? Currently thirty two state legislatures are controlled by Republicans. If those states selected Republican Senators, the body would be 64/36 in favor of Republicans instead of the 52/48 breakdown we have. In other words, Democrats control twelve more seats in the Senate than they should, leaving those states with representation in the Senate that is out of line with the views of the people.