• April 12, 2024

Targeting the U.S. Senate – WSJ

Between efforts to get rid of the legislative filibuster and the campaign to add new states for the benefit of the partisans, the U.S. Senate has not been as strong since the adoption of the 17th Amendment (on the direct election of senators) in 1913 under political pressure The enduring influence and legitimacy of the US legislative upper house has long set the US apart from many less stable democracies. But a new majority ideology threatens to improve this achievement.

Earlier this week, a House Committee is due to propose partisan and constitutionally suspicious bill to add Senators by making Washington, DC, the 51st state. The Senate’s traditional 60-vote requirement to pass laws hangs by a thread. Much has been written about the merits of both subjects, but it is wrong to see them in isolation. They are political manifestations of a fundamental challenge to the Senate as an institution worthy of being understood and rejected on its own.

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The debate over the structure of the Senate – two senators for each state, regardless of population – is as old as the nation. At the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, delegates from the larger states, particularly from the south, wanted Senate seats to be divided according to population groups. They were outvoted because smaller states like New Jersey did not want to lose their influence over the new federal government created by the constitution. The size of the big states would be reflected in the House of Representatives. This major compromise was essential for the ratification of the Constitution.

The design became part of American civil religion. As James Madison (a major stater of the Convention) wrote in federalism, equal state representation in the Senate would protect “against an inadequate consolidation of states into a simple republic”. The ability of states like Florida and New York or Wyoming and Delaware to follow different policies remains a determining factor in America’s national partisan divisions.

But like so many other features of the constitution, the Senate’s equal weighting of states is besieged in the press and in the academy. The “minority rule” has become a catchphrase among experts calling for the filibuster to be broken up and the Senate to be expanded.

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