Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Unintended consequences of the 17th amendment

Jerry Stratton, January 23, 2006

Todd Zywicki partially blames the seventeenth amendment for the increasing contentiousness of Supreme Court nominee debates as well as for the Clinton impeachment trial.

The Seventeenth Amendment has dramatically reshaped the structure of the Senate… The indirect election of Senators under the original constitution was designed to give Senators a degree of quality and independence from politics that is absent today… to my mind this increased politicization of the Senate tends to make the Senate less, rather than more, equipped to responsibly and competently carry out the advice and consent powers given to it under the Constitution.

I think it is an open question as to whether the Framers would have entrusted the advice and consent power to the Senate in the same manner had they known that eventually Senators would be elected directly by the people in partisan elections, and as a result, the nature and tenor of the confirmation process would deviate so dramatically from what was originally anticipated.

I would say the same thing about Senate trial on Impeachment. When the Framers entrusted to the Senate the power to conduct trials regarding impeachment, they anticipated that the indirect election of Senators by state legislatures would tend to elevate to the Senate individuals largely independent of political pressures and selected based on their distinction, rather than politics. One can see how with that anticipation the Framers could imagine the Senate sitting as a sort of jury weighing the evidence on the impeachment of a public official… The performance of the Senate during the Clinton impeachment showed the way in which impeachment is now an extension of politics, rather than the Senate sitting as a sort of sober jury, relatively independent of political pressures.

Of course, the key word is “relatively”. Andrew Johnson’s impeachment was fairly contentious as well, but it followed a very uncivil civil war and represented the very odd situation where the president’s own party wanted him convicted.

  1. <- Flat tax
  2. Blame Canada ->