Opinionated @ CFE

A 17th Amendment Reality Check


There have been a lot of waves made lately over candidates who want to overturn the 17th Amendment and return the selection of US Senators to the various legislatures. Certainly, I believe the system of appointed Senators made a lot of sense. It allowed states to directly have a say in the affairs of the national government, contained the power of the political elites to a single house of Congress, and created a much more deliberative body that would act as a check on popular sentiment. All that said, I don’t think the genie can be put back in the bottle quite that easily.

The biggest roadblock is Congress itself. Senators would be essentially asked to vote against their own re-election prospects. Any Senator not on good terms with the legislature of their home state could find themselves quickly out of a job. You then still need 38 state legislatures to sign off on repealing the amendment to get it to go into effect. All of this would need to happen in the midst of citizens likely protesting moving a previously elected position to an appointed one.

Even if a repeal of the 17th Amendment passed, there is nothing to restrict a legislature from retaining a de facto system of direct election anyway. Just a few years before the ratification of the amendment, 29 states allowed some form of popular vote for senators. There’s no reason to believe that most, if not all, states won’t pass statutes to preserve the status quo.

In short, even if a repeal of the 17th Amendment was probable (which it isn’t), it isn’t likely to even change anything. It’s nice to theorize about rolling it back, but taking a hard-line policy position on it as a candidate amounts to so much grandstanding.

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