Constitutional Law

Repeal the 17th Amendment? Some Candidates Back the Idea

What is the 17th Amendment, and why are some candidates backing its repeal?

“Quick, what’s the 17th Amendment?” Cato Institute vice president Gene Healy wrote in a column earlier this year for the Washington Examiner. “Good on you if you didn’t need a lifeline: It’s the one that mandated direct election of senators, instead of having them appointed by state legislatures.”

Healy blames the amendment tor shoring up federal powers at the expense of the states, and says repeal is a “noble but quixotic goal.” He cites the work of George Mason law professor Todd Zywicki, who wrote in a 1997 law review article (PDF) that state appointment of senators was part of a constitutional scheme for decentralized government.

According to Zywicki, it would have been inconceivable for a senator to have voted for unfunded government mandates before the 17th Amendment put the selection of senators in the hands of voters rather than state legislatures.

The idea of repeal is picking up steam in recent campaigns, the Washington Post blog The Fix reports. Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller backed the idea, but later retreated, saying it’s not a “practical solution.” It’s also become an issue in a Colorado Senate race, the Idaho gubernatorial race, and in congressional races in Arizona, Ohio, Colorado and Florida.

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