There has been more public debate over the last several months than before about repealing the 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Repealing the Amendment was even a plank in the campaign platform of several congressional candidates in the 2010 Elections, including some who were victorious.
The 17th Amendment provided for the direct popular election of U.S. Senators. The Framers of the Constitution had provided for the appointment of Senators by state legislatures, in order to balance the popularly-elected House of Representatives. Governors still appoint Senators to fill vacancies.
As I noted in my post from January of 2009, Retain Gubernatorial Appointment of Senators, the House was intended by the Framers to be populist because it represented the people to the Federal Union, while the Senate was meant to be a check on that populism by being appointed to represent the States. Thus, the appointment of Senators by the States was an example of the Constitutional principle of federalism, by which sovereignty is shared by the States and the federal Union of States they created. With the popular election of Senators, there is no longer any check on populism and no one to represent the States, which has led to an erosion of states’ rights and the centralization of power in the federal government.
Since that post, I have observed some confusion about the representation of States by Senators because it is often stated that Senators “represent” their States in Congress. However, there is a difference between representing the people of a State, which is what is meant by “representation” in the current usage of the word, and representing a State. In the former case, a Senator considers the people of his State his constituents, while in the latter case he considers the State (i.e. as a sovereign, independent entity) as his constituency. In other words, while the people are now the constituency of both houses of Congress, the States are no longer the constituency of anyone.
The problem is observed, for example, when candidates for the Senate or Senators promise a federal favor for the people of a state at the expense of the rights of that state, there is no one in Congress – or anywhere else in the federal government – to defend the rights of the states versus the centralization of power in the federal government.
Repealing the 17th Amendment and allowing states to appoint Senators would restore federalism by reestablishing the delicate balance intended by the Framers.