Thursday, April 18, 2013

Don't Know Much About (Constitutional) History

In an editorial published yesterday after the defeat of Manchin-Toomey, the editors of Bloomberg View bemoaned the filibuster and the fact that even small states have two senators. They claim the "rural bias" of the Senate puts gun control out of reach.
The struggle to enact their plan turned uphill this week, with nearly all Senate Republicans opposing it and even a few red-state Democrats running for cover. The proposal’s demise, in a 54-46 vote, is a testament to legislators’ continuing fear of the gun lobby. It also illuminates a political equation that grows more unbalanced, especially in the Senate, every year. The votes of Wyoming’s two senators, representing 580,000 citizens, effectively cancel the votes of California’s two senators, representing 38 million. The votes of Illinois, with a population of almost 13 million, are voided by those of Alaska, with little more than 700,000.

This is a problem for sensible gun legislation. It is also a problem for American democracy. If the nation’s laws fail to represent the views of the overwhelming majority of its people, representative democracy becomes a shallow and unsustainable exercise.

Just as gun laws have failed to keep pace with the advance of technology -- which puts ever greater firepower in the hands of virtually anyone who wants it -- the Senate has failed to adapt to the urbanization and suburbanization of the nation, enabling rural representatives to veto the will of an increasingly metropolitan majority. The Senate cannot, and indeed does not, function if 60 votes are the threshold for every proposal.
Turning their logic on its head, I don't think they would object to the two senators from Vermont, population 626,000, voting for gun control and effectively canceling out the votes of the two senators from Texas, population 25,146,000. Nor would the editors object to the two senators from Delaware, population 898,000, canceling out the pro-gun votes of the senators from Georgia, population 9,688,000.

While I might be able to excuse their lamentations about the failure of the Senate to gun control, there is no excuse for their abysmal ignorance of the Constitution and the history behind its creation which the editors should have learned before they even got to high school.

When representatives from the thirteen states assembled in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation in 1787, the delegates brought with them ideas on how they would like the future government to be structured. James Madison of Virginia brought a plan for a bicameral legislature. The Virginia, or Large State, Plan would have apportioned each house of the legislature based upon population. In response to the Virginia Plan, William Paterson of New Jersey proposed an alternative unicameral legislature with one vote per state. While the New Jersey Plan was rejected in favor of the Virginia Plan, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention finally adopted the Connecticut Compromise which satisfied both large and small states. It is this bicameral legislature that we have today: a House of Representatives apportioned by population and a Senate with two Senators per state.

 The founding fathers were wise in their compromise. The Senate was meant to be a deliberative body somewhat akin to a non-hereditary House of Lords. It was meant to be a bulwark against populist passions. To throw out the filibuster and equal apportionment by state in the name of some ill-conceived claim of discrimination against the urban areas is to trample on the concept of minority rights. I sincerely think the editors of Bloomberg View might want to consider the ramifications of that move.


  1. We've already screwed up the Senate by amending the Constitution to provide for direct election of Senators, rather than having them selected by state legislators. As a result, Senators largely work to satisfy themselves, rather than the states who elected them.

    1. Is there anything to be said about the increasing urbanization of our population? Or, the increase of population itself? Up until the 1950s, we added Senators as we added states, and added population at the same time. We capped the house at 435 in 1911, which also capped the Electoral College. Was that too soon, late, or just right?

  2. John, the fact that the Liberals are whining about how the Constitution was set up so that the Majority in SOME States couldn't overwhelm the rest of us tell me that the System is Working Just Fine.

  3. This is almost as historically ignorant as those who lament that DC doesn't have voting reps in Congress. The whole reason was DC was created was to avoid having the Capitol in any particular state, thus giving it an unfair power advantage.

  4. The Senate was designed to represent the interests of the States within their sphere of sovereignty in the federal system. Due to the change to direct election, we now have two "Houses of Representatives' who represent different voting districts. The legal entity of each State Government has been written out of representation.

  5. what is even funnier is that there are whiny liberals who can't even do the math you laid out John, and they actually will talk to friends about how "unfair" the system is. . . . . . SMDH

    -Dirk Diggler

  6. Did we see this vote:

    "To reauthorize and improve programs related to mental health and substance use disorders."

    It's one of only two amendments to that bill--the gun votes we're talking about--to pass.

    The other one:

    "To withhold 5 percent of Community Oriented Policing Services program Federal funding from States and local governments that release sensitive and confidential information on law-abiding gun owners and victims of domestic violence."

    Is also interesting but not as nearly unanimous.

    To see the other 5 amendments that failed:

    Votes 97 to 105.

    Also, not mentioned, is the fact the assault weapons ban vote:

    or Feinstein's amendment:

    "To regulate assault weapons, to ensure that the right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited, and for other purposes."

    Was NOT 54 to 46, it was 40 to 60...

    And the vote on high capacity magazines:

    Was 46 Yes to 54 No...

    Neither of which even got to majority of votes.