Constitutional Changes to Restore American Democracy: Reforming the U.S. Senate and ending the Imperial Presidency

Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell listens as President Trump speaks to reporters following a meeting at the White House in October 2017. (Illustration by Alvaro Tapia Hidalgo for National Public Radio)

This article is the first part of a six-part series,  “Constitutional Changes to satisfy California: Reforming the U.S. Senate.” The link to the next article is below.

Syndicated columnist Joe Matthews recently proposed (“Can California Save America From Itself?”, July 2) that demanding constitutional changes to restore democracy in the U.S. would be a better choice for Californians than pressing for independence now. At the least, he argues, this would establish that California has used all her power to reform the U.S. Constitution, before declaring her independence.

Consistent with my lawyer’s obligation to support law reform, here are my most significant recommendations for reforming the U.S. Constitution to strengthen democracy. First, I will outline how unrepresentative the U.S. Senate is, and why that is bad for the U.S. Next, I will relate how Great Britain solved a similar problem, starting over 100 years ago. I will then describe constitutional changes to reform the power of the U.S. Senate. Then I will propose an potential constitutional amendment to protect voters in states with less people from oppression by states with more people. Finally, I will discuss removing the U.S. Senate from the impeachment procedure.

I will address topics like the electoral college and constitutional conventions in a future article.

The Undemocratic U.S. Senate

The most serious complaint Californians have against the U.S. Government is its undemocratic legislative branch. Although gerrymandering of Congressional districts receives more attention, the problem of inequality of representation in the U.S. Senate is much more serious.

Inherent advantage of conservatives over progressives through the U.S. Senate

The U.S. Senate automatically gives progressive voters, who concentrate in populous states and cities, less power than conservative factions because:

  1. The voters of each state elect the same number of senators, regardless of their population.
  2. The Senate can block legislation supported by the more equitable House of Representatives.
  3. The Senate has sole control over confirmation of presidential appointees and federal judges, and the ratification of treaties with foreign nations.

In addition, because they are statewide elections, Senate races tend to attract millionaires and celebrities, who are more able to raise sufficient campaign funds.

Because states with wildly varied populations elect the same number of senators, the Senate is the least democratic institution in the U.S. Over the last 230 years, this is how the difference in population between the most and least populous states has changed:

Total PopulationMost Populous StateLeast Populous StateFactor of Difference
1790Virginia: 747,610 (292,697 slaves)Delaware: 59,094 (8,887 slaves)12.65
2010California: 33,871,648Wyoming: 493,78268.60
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Clearly, the Founders never anticipated the inequity their system would create.

The advantage small-population states have over large-population states are bad for America.

The bias of the U.S. Senate in favor of low-population states undermines the national interest by almost encouraging states to choose policies that force their people to move to states that are more economically successful. Between 2001 and 2010, 30 states grew slower than the national average of 9.7%. By the way, these 30 states did not include California, which grew 10.0%. Yet because of the U.S. Senate, these 30 states retained their political influence.

Meanwhile, more and more people live in fewer states. In 1790, half the population lived in four states; they were represented by 31% of the Senators. Today, half the population — 161 million — live in just nine states; they elect only 18% of U.S. Senators. Within two decades, just 16% of U.S. Senators will represent half the American people. Constitutional change is necessary and overdue.

Part Two: How Great Britain eliminated the Problem of its Undemocratic Upper House a Century Ago (click here)

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5 Responses

  1. July 13, 2020

    […] article is the second part of a six-part series, “Constitutional Changes to restore American Democracy: Reforming the U.S. Senate and ending the Imper….” Click here to read Part One: “The Undemocratic U.S. […]

  2. July 13, 2020

    […] to restore American Democracy: Reforming the U.S. Senate and ending the Imperial Presidency.” Click here to read Part One: “The Undemocratic U.S. […]

  3. July 13, 2020

    […] to restore American Democracy: Reforming the U.S. Senate and ending the Imperial Presidency.” Click here to read Part One: “The Undemocratic U.S. […]

  4. July 13, 2020

    […] to Restore American Democracy: Reforming the U.S. Senate and ending the Imperial Presidency.” Click here to read Part One: “The Undemocratic U.S. […]

  5. July 14, 2020

    […] to restore American Democracy: Reforming the U.S. Senate and ending the Imperial Presidency.” Click here to read Part One: “The Undemocratic U.S. […]

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