Reid’s push for tyranny in U.S. Senate
When the United States Senate reconvenes Jan. 5, Senator Harry Reid’s Democrats intend “to change the Senate rules so that they can ram through their agenda when their majority shrinks … from 59 to 53 seats.” Republicans rightly point out that this political maneuver flies in the face of the clear verdict of the 2010 elections. They have also been trying to make the point that it overthrows the distinctive tradition of the U.S. Senate, which has characteristically operated by rules that prevent a simple majority of senators from running roughshod over the views of a minority, or even of individual senators.
Unfortunately for the Republicans, the appeal to tradition doesn’t carry much water in our day. In fact, the argument from tradition has never been conclusive in American politics or, for that matter, in American society at large. America’s founding represented a break with the notion that unthinking deference to tradition must be a decisive factor in determining the right structure and rules for political decision and action. The key American principle is that legitimate government must be based on the consent of the governed, not reflexive deference to tradition.
Of course, that same American principle makes respect for unalienable right (i.e., justice as determined by “the laws of nature and of nature’s God”) the defining aim of the just powers of government. In general, this aim constrains the political majority to be fair in their treatment of minorities and individuals. It was of particular importance, however, when the framers of the U.S. Constitution originally debated the structure and characteristics of the Congress of the United States. The states with smaller populations naturally resisted a system of representation that distributed votes strictly according to population. The states with larger populations refused to accept a system that simply gave each state an equal vote regardless of population. One way or the other, the aim was to prevent a government structurally dominated by a simple majority, whether of small states or large populations.
The framers compromised with an approach that gave the larger population states an advantage in the composition of the U.S. House of Representatives, but allowed each state an equal number of votes in the U.S. Senate, regardless of population. In Federalist 62, Madison describes this as “the result, not of theory, but ‘of a spirit of amity, and that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable.’”
Yet he goes on to make clear that it has “advantageous consequences” that went beyond the political exigencies of the moment:
In this spirit it may be remarked, that the equal vote allowed to each State is at once a constitutional recognition of the portion of sovereignty remaining in the individual States, and an instrument for preserving that residuary sovereignty. So far the equality ought to be no less acceptable to the large than to the small States; since they are not less solicitous to guard, by every possible expedient, against an improperconsolidationof the states into one simple republic.
As originally conceived, the U.S. Senate wasintendedto represent and safeguard the residual sovereignty of the state governments. Equal representation in the Senate gave “to the State governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the authority of the former, and may form a convenient link between the two systems.”
With this in mind, we can more easily appreciate the reason for the U.S. Senate’s traditional respect for the views of the minority, and of individual senators. As the Senate was originally conceived, when a significant minority of senators opposed a given piece of legislation they represented the common conviction of a significant minority of state governments. Routine disregard for the feelings of such a minority had implications that went beyond the legislative process. It affected the peace and strength of the union, up to and including the possibility of armed conflict among the states.
With the passage of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, however, the U.S. senators ceased to represent the state governments, which therefore lost their “agency in the formation of the federal government.” Instead of representing the states’ residual sovereignty, senators became somewhat grander versions of the Representatives of the people in the U.S. House, distinguished by the fact that they represented population districts defined by fixed state boundaries, rather than boundaries periodically adjusted inlightof the decennial Census.
One of the goals of the grass-roots political uprising that finds its voice at tea-party gatherings around the nation is to end the domination of arrogant political elites and restore respect for the sovereignty of the people. This has given rise to an effort to remember and effectively revive the 10th Amendment’s explicit recognition of the residual sovereignty of the states and the people. Anyone seriously interested in this effort must consider the fact that the Democrats’ push to establish tyranny by simple majority in the U.S. Senate is an effort to remove the last vestige of what wasintendedto be the key constitutional means for safeguarding that residual sovereignty.
The reasons for resisting this tyrannical scheme go beyond what may appear to be the self-serving objections of the newly strengthened GOP contingent in the U.S. Senate. It has to do with the divide between those (in both parties) who seek to end, beyond hope of redemption, the federal republicintendedby the framers of the U.S. Constitution; and those like myself, who seek to restore the practical basis for its survival. The latter should seek to organize the anger and frustration over Harry Reid’s highhanded procedural maneuvers into a determined effort to galvanize sentiment in favor of repealing the 17th Amendment. Repeal would re-establish the direct connection between respect for the U.S. Senate minority and respect for the residual sovereignty of the state governments and the people. Such a goal goes beyond today’s temporary partisan interests. Instead, it serves the permanent interest of America, now and in generations to come.
For more from Alan Keyes visithttp://loyaltoliberty.com. Once a high-level Reagan-era diplomat, Alan Keyes is a long-time leader in the conservative movement, well-known as a staunch pro-life champion and an eloquent advocate of the Constitutional Republic, including respect for the moral basis of liberty and self-government. He staunchly resists the destruction of the American people’s sovereignty by fighting to secure our borders, abolish the federal income tax, end the insurrectionary practices of the federal Judiciary, and build a banking and financial system that halts elite looting of America’s wealth and income. He formally severed his Republican Party affiliation in April of 2008 and has since then worked withAmerica’s Independent Partyto build an effective vehicle for citizen-led grass-roots political action.