Dahlonega has established a tradition of having the U. S. Constitution read aloud on the Public Square every Fourth of July.
I recommend that everyone reread it at least once each year. The initial ratification of the Constitution included the first 10 amendments that are known as the Bill of Rights. You know about some of them already.
The First Amendment provides for freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The Second Amendment provides for the people to keep and bear arms.
Adding the next 17 amendments took more than 200 years; No. 27 was ratified in 1992. The first 100 years saw only five amendments added to the Constitution. Three were added immediately after the War Between the States, which my grandmother always referred to as the “the late great unpleasantness.”
Twelve more amendments were added during the 20th Century including two that recognized we could make mistakes.
The 18th created Prohibition and the 21st repealed it. It is this recognition that we do make mistakes that this article will discuss, because I believe we made a mistake enacting the 17th Amendment.
Those of us who watch TV for a portion of our news have seen and heard numerous discussions of how the budgetary shambles in Washington is affecting the budgets of the states. On June 30, The Gainesville Times carried Tom Crawford’s article “Senators could wreck Georgia’s budget.”
Georgia’s senators had voted to continue the filibuster against a bill to “extend the flow of federal funds to the states to help pay for such things as unemployment insurance benefits and Medicaid treatments.”
The evening news showed interviews with the senators and Gov. Perdue. The senators explained that the vote was intended to control the mounting debt.
Perdue discussed how not passing the bill would create a $375 million hole in Georgia’s Medicaid budget.
I hasten to point out that this article is not about disparaging our senators or the governor, but to lay the foundation of why the 17th Amendment was a mistake.
Article I of the Constitution clearly states that Congress will be made up of a House of Representatives chosen by the people and a Senate chosen by the state legislatures. The number of Representatives for each state is based on the ratio of the population of that state to the total population of the country as a whole. The House of Representatives’ purpose is to represent the people.
On the other hand, the purpose of the Senate was to represent the state governments, more specifically, the state legislatures. The Constitution gives each state two senators, and each state has only two votes in the Senate, regardless of population. The sole purpose of having a Senate represent the legislatures is so that the state representatives in the legislature and the federal representatives of that legislature (U.S. senators) are “singing from the same sheet of music.” U.S. senators were expected to take their guidance from their state legislatures, otherwise, those same legislatures could replace them.
The 17th Amendment took away state government’s representation and gave it to the people without regard to the distribution of the population. It makes absolutely no sense to give Alaska’s senators 35 times the voting power of California if the intent is equal representation.
The 17th Amendment has led to senatorial disregard of legislative intent, thus leading to many senators being able to stay longer and longer in Congress.
Without the 17th Amendment, Georgia’s senators and governor would probably spend more time discussing federal legislation before the vote rather than afterward.
It is this lack of federal representation of state legislatures that has led a number of states to recently pass and send to Congress resolutions restating the 10th Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
I believe it is time we admitted that state governments need representation in Congress and that passing the 17th Amendment was a mistake.
Like the Federalist Papers, which laid the groundwork for the U.S. Constitution, the 17th Amendment to the Constitution has been little discussed during most classes about our government.
Rep. Amos Amerson can be reached at 689 N. Chestatee Street, Dahlonega, GA 30533; (706) 864-6589; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Or contact Gerald Lewy at (706) 344-7788.