Revolutionizing the Senate

Cy Burchenal, Opinion Columnist

As a document, the American Constitution has reshaped itself profoundly numerous times. The fact that the Constitution is a living document is its most important characteristic. But like all works of legal writing, it has aged. The aspects of the United States that once made the Constitution such an effective document with which to govern now make the Constitution in many ways highly undemocratic. The Electoral College is among those outdated institutions, but another, less frequently recognized issue also presents serious danger to the health of American democracy.

Amid the tumult of contemporary politics it is easy to become lost in the now and pay no attention to issues that may shape our politics profoundly in the next several decades. The short term always draws more attention than the long term. Over the next several decades, the most populous states in the U.S. will continue to grow, until a majority of states hold a minority of the U.S. population. Following current trends, most of the U.S. population will likely live in a severe minority of U.S. states — large coastal economies such as California, New York, Florida and Texas will continue to grow in population, while more rural landlocked states will stagnate in growth. This makes for a severe problem with regard to governmental representation. The number of congressional representatives each state gets is fluid, but the number of senators per state is fixed. Every state has two senators, and increasingly most of the Senate represents a minority of the national population. Comparing California and Wyoming provides a glaring example of this phenomenon. California is almost 70 times larger than Wyoming, yet both have an equal vote in the Senate. That was a radical example, but even more populous states such as Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi and Iowa, each with roughly three million residents, all have a tenth the population per senator that California has. Here we see an aspect of the Constitution that was prudent during its drafting but is now hugely problematic.

To avoid a further crisis of representation, it would be prudent for the Senate to institute uneven distribution of senators among states, in correlation with each state’s population. This would make the U.S. Senate function similarly to the House of Representatives, in that no state has a fixed number of representatives. The Senate was created as a buffer against a tyranny of the majority, but in doing so a tyranny of the minority, or simply tyranny, was established.

The United States Constitution is a brilliant document, one that has served us well for centuries. But even the most well-written laws and constitutions need constant revision, and ours is in desperate need of serious change — change that would necessarily alter the structure of the U.S. government.