February 22, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Repeal the 17th Amendment?

Now that Sen. Roland Burris is in legal and political jeopardy because of false or incomplete testimony while he was being scrutinized for fitness to serve in the U.S. Senate, the question arises as to what lessons we should draw from this fiasco. Sen. Russ Feingold has proposed to amend the 17th Amendment, which provided for direct popular election of senators, which was originally the prerogative of state legislatures. To prevent governors from abusing their discretion to appoint senators such as former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich did, Feingold would require all states to hold elections to fill senate vacancies soon after they occur; at present, four states have such a provision.

In today's Washington Post, George Will heaps scorn on Feingold for "more vandalism against the Constitution," after the Feingold-McCain Act gutted (Will believes) the First Amendment. Will belittles the naive progressive belief that more democracy is always better, and that federalism is a quaint, bygone custom. Instead, Will says, it would be better to simply repeal the 17th Amendment. Of course, that's not very practical, given the exaggerated faith in democracy in contemporary America. But at least this ought to spur some serious thinking on restoring the proper function of the U.S. Senate as a deliberative body, rather than an assembly that is primarily responsive to the popular will. Ironically, Will's suggestion would probably not be very popular.