US Senate’s Brain Hemorrhaging Clout

Adam Liptak, in his March 11, 2013 New York Times article, Smaller States Find Outsize Clout Growing in Senate, makes a logical argument, about smaller State’s having disproportionate electoral power in the Senate, based on false premises.

First, Liptak complains “Vermont’s 625,000 residents have two United States senators, and so do New York’s 19 million. That means that a Vermonter has 30 times the voting power in the Senate of a New Yorker just over the state line — the biggest inequality between two adjacent states.”

Liptak’s focus in this complaint is that smaller States were able to get a disproportionate amount of the stimulus money compared to their relative population, because their Senators wield disproportionate power compared to a larger State’s population.

He assumes that distribution of national revenue to individual States, groups or people is somehow constitutional, which it is not. The only two things authorized by the Constitution for which Congress can spend the nation’s revenue are to “provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.”[1]

By this clause, the Constitution limits the scope of the national government’s spending to things that are common to all in which all citizens derive an equal benefit, like a common defense. Congress is also limited on what constitutes “general Welfare” by the specific powers delegated to the national government in the Constitution.[2] The 10th Amendment makes it clear that if a power is not expressly written in the Constitution, then the national government does not have the authority to do it. Accordingly, the term “general Welfare” in the first article is bounded by eighteen delegated powers that come after it.

Second, Liptak states, “But [the advantage of the small-state’s] growing importance has caused some large-state policy makers and advocates for giving all citizens an equal voice in democracy to begin exploring ways to counteract [the small-state advantage].”

By this statement and others similar to it, he assumes and implies we were founded as a democracy requiring majority rule, but contrary to his apparent misunderstanding we were founded as a republic and more specifically a constitutional republic. The definition of which is a nation governed by constitutional law, upheld by representatives of that law who are elected by the people. This means Senators, Representatives and Presidents are elected to uphold the Constitution; not the will of the majority.

Prior to the ratification of the 17th Amendment, Senators were appointed by their State’s legislature to represent the interest of the State, not the irrational exuberance of the State’s population. This nuance may be lost on many people today, but it is a vitally important distinction, because, among other things prior to the 17th Amendment, Senators did not divert national resources to their State in an effort to gain popularity with the people of the State for re-election purposes.

To be clear, Senators should represent the interests of their State, no matter what its relative population or geographical composition. This does not mean, however, they should vie for pieces of an unconstitutional pie commonly known as “pork barrel spending”. They instead should uphold constitutional original intent by ensuring legislation passed in Congress does not violate the Constitution, infringe on their State’s rights or cause detriment to our nation as a whole.

Third, Liptak explains, “What is certain is that the power of the smaller states is large and growing. Political scientists call it a striking exception to the democratic principle of “one person, one vote.” Indeed, they say, the Senate may be the least democratic legislative chamber in any developed nation.”

Constitutionally, the principle of one person, one vote of equal weight was never a concept endorsed by the founders or the States, for presidential elections or senatorial appointments, and neither is it beneficial for upholding the rights of all citizens. In order to preserve the cultural diversity found throughout American society, the voices of regional constituencies must be held above the collective voice of individuals.

“Our nation was founded by thirteen independent and individually sovereign States who jealously guarded both. The Electoral College was designed to preserve the independence and sovereignty of each State by requiring presidential candidates to build a national consensus among the States instead of enabling them to pander to regional interests with high populations.”[3] Similarly, US Senators were intended to represent the aggregate interests of each State, while US Representatives represent the interests of the majority in their Congressional district. It is only in the House of Representatives where the principle of one person, one vote was intended to apply.

If the principle of one person, one vote were applied to the Electoral College “candidates would concentrate on the most densely populated areas of the nation where they could maximize their time and resources, thereby completely ignoring the less populated ones. For example, candidates would skip over rural areas of the country while they focused their time, money and resources on winning the votes from people in cities.”[4]

In so doing, the voices of the people in rural areas, who choose to live life in a manner different from those who live in cities, would be completely disregarded. “In such an election process, what good is the voice of the majority when the voice of the minority is completely ignored?”[5]

Our American electoral system is fair, because it preserves regional interests, whereas the universally applied principle of one person, one vote of equal weight would only preserve the interests of the majority. This consequence is very well demonstrated by Liptak’s first example:

“The difference in the fortunes of Rutland [, Vermont] and Washington [, New York] Counties reflects the growing disparity in their citizens’ voting power,”

In this quote, and many similar examples he provides throughout his article, he argues that economic disparity among different cities and counties across the nation is the result of an inequitable distribution of national revenue from small State Senator’s wielding disproportionate voting power.

Ironically, the consequence he bewails was most likely caused by the application of one person, one vote to senatorial races after ratification of the 17th Amendment. In his example, it is more likely that a rural county in Vermont received a greater proportion of stimulus money than a rural county in New York, because Vermont does not have an overwhelming population center, like New York City, in which the stimulus money was disproportionately spent to buy electoral loyalty for senatorial re-elections.

A simple solution to the problem he is decrying, other than repealing the 17th Amendment, is to stop appropriating national revenue for anything other than what is expressly authorized in the Constitution. It may seem like a novel idea, but keeping taxpayer money within the counties of each State and allowing each county to decide how best to spend their money is better than giving it to the national government in hopes that the national government might give some of it back. This is a simple solution, because doing this only requires we uphold current law instead of trying to manipulate the “supreme Law”.

Fourth, Liptak supports much of his argument for curbing his presumed senatorial imbalance of power on false appeals to authority and irrelevant conclusions. He quotes numerous Supreme Court Justices and political scientists, but he does not substantiate their opinions in his article. It does not matter how credentialed Justices or political scientists are, their unsupported opinions do not equate to fact or truth and their points are not always germane to Constitutional discernment.

For example, Liptak quotes Chief Justice Earl Warren, “Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests.” Although, what Warren stated is true, it has nothing to do with Constitutional original intent.

When it comes to interpreting our national contract, the US Constitution, to preserve equity in the face of changing and diverse worldviews, original intent must be maintained. This means any interpretation of the Constitution must be based on sound logic tracing its argument back to pre-constitutional common law, as was then prevalent during the founding of our nation. Any other interpretation will unconstitutionally benefit one or more group(s) of people to the detriment of others.

Finally, it seems Liptak’s main frustration and reason for writing his article is that the status quo limits the political left’s agenda.

“Beyond influencing government spending, these shifts generally benefit conservative causes and hurt liberal ones…The Constitution has always given residents of states with small populations a lift, but the size and importance of the gap has grown markedly in recent decades, in ways the framers probably never anticipated. It affects the political dynamic of issues as varied as gun control, immigration and campaign finance.”

His supposition may be accurate, but it is no reason to tamper with a system that has withstood the test of time better than any other in the history of the world and upholds everyone’s rights instead of succumbing to the often irrational will of the majority.

[1] US Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 1.

[2] American Founding Principles, Who is General Welfare?, October 15, 2012.

[3] American Founding Principles, Restoring the Electoral College Part 1, October 3, 2013.

[4] American Founding Principles, Restoring the Electoral College Part 1, October 3, 2013.

[5] American Founding Principles, Restoring the Electoral College Part 1, October 3, 2013.


One thought on “US Senate’s Brain Hemorrhaging Clout

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