How Electing U.S. Senators Ravages Constitution

U.S. Senators were never meant to be elected by popular vote. The were meant to be selected by state legislatures, and their job was to protect their state's interests in Washington. Andrew Napolitano reminds us in a new column.

The 17th Amendment to the Constitution, which provides for the direct popular election of senators, was enacted in 1913, at the height of the Progressive Era. Originally, the Constitution had provided for state legislatures to appoint U.S. senators, a realistic reflection that the Constitution was a compact of sovereign states. It meant that senators would not be focused on public campaigning; they could do what they were elected to do. They would represent the interests of the states that sent them -- not the people in the states, but the states as sovereign entities.

The Founding Fathers' original intent in providing for indirect election of senators was to place a strong check on the power of the federal government. At the federal table, the people were to be represented by the House of Representatives, the nation as a nation was to be represented by the president, and the states as sovereign entities were to be represented by the senators whom the states sent to Washington. The beauty of this federal table concept was the veto the states had on the encroachment of their sovereignty by the feds. The 17th Amendment killed that veto, took away the states' place at the federal table, unleashed the feds' appetite for power, and assaulted the delicate constitutional framework the founders gave us.

This is not a dead issue; it is one that has been picking up steam. Sen.-elect Mike Lee (R-UT), who was swept to power in the recent elections, advocated the Amendment's abolition during his campaign. Think about it: If it weren't for the 17th Amendment, President Obama's health care legislation would never have come to pass because senators who were held accountable to their states would never have agreed to impose an unfunded mandate on them.

As the Tea Partiers educate themselves about what is good law and can stay, and what is bad law and must be purged, I would urge them to take a second look at the 17th Amendment and consider whether more democracy is what we want, or if it's really more checks on the voracious federal appetite for power that we need.

Amending the Constitution is a dangerous thing, and the mess we're in today was largely created by the meddling that took place in 1913.