The Racist History Behind The Repeal The 17th Amendment Movement
There is nothing more American, more democratic, than the ability to directly elect our officials. So naturally, Republicans want to do away with it by repealing the Seventeenth Amendment.
In fact, repealing the Seventeenth Amendment, the constitutional amendment that guarantees voters the right to elect their own senators, has become almost as popular among the right as privatizing social security and defunding Planned Parenthood. The current list of supporters includes Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) who is currently campaigning to replace retiring Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ), Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, Missouri Senate Candidate Rep. Todd Akin, former Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekstra, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Mike Lee and Justice Antonin Scalia all pine for the day when corrupt state legislatures picked their Senators.
The argument the hard-right advances for the elimination of the 17th Amendment is, of course, a state’s rights argument. Last November, Hoekstra told a conservative talk radio program on WAAM in Ann Arbor that allowing people to elect their own Senators weakened the power of the states relative to the federal government. “The direct election of U.S. Senators made the U.S. Senate act and behave like the House of Representatives,” Hoekstra said. “The end result has led to an erosion of states’ rights.”
According to those who support the repeal, the framers of the Constitution intended the Senate to be answerable to the states and to serve on a check of federal power that would naturally expand as a result of the direct election of representatives to the U.S. House of Representatives.
What supporters of repeal largely leave out is that prior to the 17th Amendment, the appointment of senators was one way the slave-holding and then later segregationist South maintained political power. And, the direct appointment of Senators was seen as one of the compromises necessary to get the slave-holding South to sign on to the Constitution since it would assure their less-populous states would have just as much say in the Senate as the free states in the North.
The move to pass the 17th Amendment was a direct response to a national desire to drive out that racist element from our political process and to keep, as much as possible, direct say in the governance of the people in the hands of the people. Not only was the direct election of Senators via the 17th Amendment a success of the progressive era, so to was the 19th Amendment which recognized a woman’s right to vote.
No wonder the Tea Party, our modern day recreation of the privileged slaveholding South sees the 17th Amendment as such a threat. I wonder how long until they openly move on to challenging the 19th as well?
Photo from vectorportal via flickr.