Monday, December 3, 2012

Big States, Little States

MinnPost's Eric Black today rounded out his series on the U.S. Constitution with an article on the only part of the Constitution that can't be amended: The requirement that the Senate be made up of equal representation by state.

I didn't know that was the only requirement that was unchangeable, and I also had never thought hard enough about how disparate the populations of the least populous states are vs. the most populous:

The combined population of the 21 least populous states is a little less than the 37 million population of California alone.

So the 37 million residents of those 21 states are represented by 42 U.S. senators – enough to sustain a filibuster in the Senate and prevent a bill from coming to a vote. Meanwhile, the 37 million Californians (12 percent of the U.S. total) are represented by two senators (2 percent of the Senate total).
Black points out how that contradicts the idea of one person, one vote, let alone equal protection under the law.
To clarify, if Minnesota wanted to create a state Senate based on the federal Senate model, by granting, let’s say, one Senate seat to each of Minnesota’s 87 counties, notwithstanding the huge disparity  between Traverse County (population 3,552) and Hennepin County (1.15 million), the U.S. Supreme Court would deem that it violates the one-person one-vote principle.
He continues with the historical context where this rule arose, and we all can understand that there were trade-offs in the Constitutional Convention. There's really nothing that can be done about it, so, as commenter Ray Schoch put it, it does no good to worry about it. A Constitutional Convention is out of the question for any sane person, and that would be the only way to get rid of it.

It does, however, reinforce the need to get rid of the Electoral College and reform the filibuster, which would both help to lessen the effects of this disparate representation.

On the latter topic, the Up with Chris Hayes show from last Saturday is must-viewing (the first segment is here, another here, and the next is here -- and another here -- apologies for the ads and any possible misordering. I hate MSNBC's chopped-up segments that give no clue about the order to watch them in).

The panel included my new favorite person, Constitutional scholar Akhil Amar, along with the past parliamentarian of the Senate and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who used to be the lone voice calling for filibuster reform, but who now has some interesting company.

No comments: