Kimberly Strassel calls the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s staggering Senate loss candidates “professional malpractice” (“The GOP’s Epic Senate Fail,” Potomac Watch, Nov. 8). While Ms. Strassel is correct, she fails to explore the historical irony behind leaving Senate elections vulnerable to this particular brand of malpractice: The whole point of the American founders’ decision to divide the legislature in the first place was to protect states’ rights in one house, free from bungling attempts like the NRSC’s to direct the popular will and influence special interest groups.
Enacted in 1913, the 17th Amendment restructured the government so that there is no difference between how Senators and Representatives are elected. This is in stark contrast to how the American Constitution imagined the country would be run.
The Constitution outlined a legislative branch in which Americans didn’t actually directly elect senators, state legislators did. This reflected the fact that the House was intended to represent individuals’ rights, while the Senate stood for states’ rights. Individuals, the founders believed, would be better represented overall with two separate levels of accountability before submitting to the ultimate will of the federal government on high.
Federalism was an important principle for the American founders, and federalism holds states’ rights paramount. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has gone so far as to note that since the 17th Amendment was ratified, “you can trace the decline of so-called states’ rights throughout the rest of the 20th century.”
America was founded not as a democracy, but as a Constitutional Republic—a community of individuals and states responsible to constitutional procedures designed to promote divided government. The 17th Amendment changed the process to make the Senate democratically responsible to the people rather than, as in a republic, responsible to the states.
It is no wonder, then, that so many other American principles have also ceased to resemble the constitutional principles of 1776.Kathryn Ciano Arlington, VA