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January 25, 2013


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Eric Wilde

Constitutional Congress Time

The problem is, who writes the new rules?

Sir Charles

l-t c,

I really don't understand why Harry Reid and some of the others on the Democrats side do not see the need to dramatically curtail the filibuster. It just blows me away.

kathy a.

y'all got some spam on the other thread. need to do some reading up about this one.


We might also turn to James Madison, who in Federalist #10, where he makes the case for a federal republic giving us the best chance to "control the violence of faction," defines faction to include both a "majority or a minority" of the whole. He was more worried about majority tyranny; but---and this is important---obviously thought that the Senate, with six year terms and selection by state legislatures, provided more than enough protection for minority rights. Notably, Madison, at the time, opposed giving every state two senators; he supported proportional representation, which suggests that he didn't even think that we needed two senators from every state to protect minorities against majority "factions." Now , consider how things have change since 1787: When Madison wrote Federalist #10 Virginia (our most populous state) had a population about twelve times greater than did Delaware (our least populous state). Today, California has a population about 64 times larger than does Wyoming, our least populous state. One voter in Wyoming has the influence of 64 voters in California. Madison, I'm quite certain, would see this as institutionalize minority faction, that the Senate as configured and using rules that Madison could not anticipate, serves to promote what amounts to tyranny of the minority. As one critic put it, ever since the 17th amendment took state legislatures out of the picture, the Senate represents "Americas largest affirmative action program." My guess is that Madison would say that while reforms would help, what we really need to do is adopt his proportional representation idea----each state gets one Senator (that's the price of a federal system), a second or third seat in the Senate should depend on population.

Eric Wilde

Sorry, of course I meant Constitutional Convention. Its a pipe dream, though.


I think I'd be afeerd of a Con-Con. There's a large number of loonies in this country who are 2nd and 10th Amendment absolutists who might leap at the chance to change an entire country's form of government the better to suit their desires.

Okay, that's melodramatic, but still. I remember reading Allan Drury's final potboilers (he started with Advise and Consent, which won a Pulitzer, but by the time he ended with Come Nineveh Come Tyre and The Promise of Joy he'd lapsed into political soap opera).

Eric Wilde

Yeah, the crazies would loudly demand lots of insane clauses in any new version of the Constitution. Still, the Senate (and even the House) have seen the end of their usefulness.

I do think the time of a Con-Con is coming. It would necessarily be an imperfect document, just like our current constitution; but, it could be made better.

low-tech cyclist

Eric - one hardly needs a Constitutional convention to rewrite the Senate rules. All that's needed is enough pressure on the Senate to make 51 Senators willing to do so.

I did a bad job in writing this post, commingling two different objections. One was the standard objection to a minority being able to tie up the Senate in knots.

The other, which is the one I was really trying to raise to the fore, is that the sheer unintelligibility of the workings of the Senate to the citizenry is fundamentally antidemocratic in and of itself.

That very unintelligibility makes it somewhere between difficult and impossible to show people, "here's what needs fixing, now let's lean on our Senators to fix it."

No one should have to be an expert on Senate rules to understand why legislation and Presidential appointments can't get through the Senate. There shouldn't be any such thing as an 'expert on Senate rules', just the way there shouldn't be any such thing as being an expert on what you're allowed to do at a red light.

People should be able to quickly and easily grasp how their government works. Every now and then, things are complicated because there's no simpler way that works. But an unnecessarily obfuscatory design is inherently antidemocratic.

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