Returning States’ Role in Civic Structure
One can sense a desire, in the broadly defined Tea Party movement, to repeal something among the many decisions, amendments, and statutes that have diluted the Founders’ experiment of divided government powers. Todd Zywicki marks the introduction of the Seventeenth Amendment to the list of candidates for rethinking:
Election of senators by state legislatures was a cornerstone of two of the most important “auxiliary precautions”: federalism and the separation of powers. Absent some direct grant of federal influence to state governments, the latter would be in peril of being “swallowed up,” to use George Mason’s phrase. Even arch-centralizer Hamilton recognized that this institutional protection was necessary to safeguard state autonomy. In addition, the Senate was seen as a means of linking the state governments together with the federal one. Senators’ constituents would be state legislators rather than the people, and through their senators the states could influence federal legislation or even propose constitutional amendments under Article V of the Constitution.
The Seventeenth Amendment ended all that, bringing about the master-servant relationship between the federal and state governments that the original constitutional design sought to prevent. Before the Seventeenth Amendment, the now-widespread Washington practice of commandeering the states for federal ends — through such actions as “unfunded mandates,” laws requiring states to implement voter-registration policies that enable fraud (such as the “Motor Voter” law signed by Bill Clinton), and the provisions of Obamacare that override state policy decisions — would have been unthinkable. Instead, senators today act all but identically to House members, treating federalism as a matter of political expediency rather than constitutional principle.
The Seventeenth Amendment also, it seems to me, put another arrow in the notion of federalism by giving special interests even more opportunity to sow together constituencies across state borders. There are points to be made on both sides, but there are reasons for representative government on multiple tiers.
In general, though, I doubt the prospects of passing amendments to address this sort of complex civic question. What’s needed, perhaps, is a single amendment — the Return to Foundations Amendment, or something — that pulls together several of the ideas for repeal and modification that are floating around as separate movements.