It seems that martial artist turned political activist and commentator Chuck Norris has figured out what's wrong with Congress. There are just "too many cooks in the kitchen." Norris's brilliant idea to remedy the situation? Cut the House of Representatives down to one representative per state. Norris's thought-provoking argument for this inane proposition? The Constitution says that "each state shall have at least one Representative," a clause that, according to Norris's remarkable interpretation, was intended to provide an option that each state, regardless of population, have only one representative.
While citing the Constitution and quoting Federalist 55, the authorities on which his latest WorldNetDaily column is ostensibly based, Norris apparently did the bulk of his "research" on Wikipedia, where an obvious reading comprehension problem, whether innate or the result of being kicked in the head a few too many times, led him to his astounding conclusion.
A Wikipedia article on the size of the House of Representatives, which Norris links to in his WorldNetDaily column, contains the following few sentences, hypothetically explaining the minimum and maximum number of members the House could have based on the current population: "Since each state is guaranteed one Representative under Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution, the minimum size of the House would be 50 Representatives. This would convert it into a non-proportional, U.S. Senate-like body. At the other extreme, because the number of Representatives cannot exceed one for every thirty thousand, the maximum number of Representatives at this time would be approximately 10,100."
Obviously, the clause in the Constitution that says "each state shall have at least one Representative" meant that if a state had less than 30,000 residents, or whatever number of residents per representative it would work out to when a future Congress put a cap on the size of the House, the states with fewer than that number of residents would still be guaranteed one seat.
Here's Norris's take on this:
"If you've ever heard the saying, 'Too many cooks in the kitchen,' then you know how I feel about Congress. We have more representatives than we need, and even more than the Constitution requires. Big or bigger government is not the solution to our problems -- that is why Congress often faces gridlock and is counterproductive, because there are simply too many of them. Some of the founders even warned about the repercussions of a government that would grow too large.
"What many might not realize is that there is nothing ultimately sacred about the present number of congressmen and congresswomen we have in the House of Representatives. Actually, the proper numbers of representatives from each state has been debated since our founders' time. The Constitution (Article I, Section 2, Clause 3) requires and endeavors to assure fairness and equity by requiring at least one representative per state, two senators per state and representation in the electoral college. (At the other extreme, it states that 'The number of representatives shall not exceed one for every 30,000.') So why not go with the lesser amount?..."
Norris then contends that "the numbers are stacked in discriminatory ways," citing as his example California's large population and proportionally large number of representatives: "[I]f California represents a larger liberal voice with its 53 representatives, what chance or how fair is it for smaller more conservative states who have between one and five representatives and votes in the House?" Apparently, this constitutional scholar is unfamiliar with the heated debates between the large states and the small states at the Constitutional Convention that resulted in a House based on population and a Senate in which every state is equally represented -- debates that were so heated that they almost put an end to the convention altogether.
Norris continues with the following quote from Federalist 55, the same one that appears in the Wikipedia article, introducing this quote by saying he "agree[s] with the rationale of James Madison, a member of the Continental Congress and our fourth president, who advocated keeping the number of representatives within limits."
"Nothing can be more fallacious than to found our political calculations on arithmetical principles. Sixty or seventy men may be more properly trusted with a given degree of power than six or seven. But it does not follow that six or seven hundred would be proportionally a better depositary. And if we carry on the supposition to six or seven thousand, the whole reasoning ought to be reversed. The truth is, that in all cases a certain number at least seems to be necessary to secure the benefits of free consultation and discussion, and to guard against too easy a combination for improper purposes; as, on the other hand, the number ought at most to be kept within a certain limit, in order to avoid the confusion and intemperance of a multitude. In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever character composed, passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob."
But, Madison's "rationale" was far from what Norris seems to think it was. Norris's statement that "[s]ome of the founders even warned about the repercussions of a government that would grow too large," while true in regard to other aspects of the government, was never a warning about the size of Congress. In fact, the worry in the days of the founders was that the number of representatives called for in the Constitution was too small. The fear was that it wouldn't be a large enough body to prevent corruption from conspiracies among groups of members. The reasoning was that the bigger the Congress, the less chance there would be that enough corrupt members could ever join together to have any great effect on the whole body. Madison's purpose in writing Federalist 55 was assure the people that the size of the House, which would at first consist of only sixty-five members, would be increased within a few years, once the 1790 census was taken, and would quickly grow larger as the population increased. Of course the founders realized that some future Congress would eventually have to put a limit on the number of representatives, and that we would never have or want anything close to an Athenian assembly -- a pure democracy in which every adult male was a member. Obviously, our House of Representatives was never going to be a mob of 40,000 members, with a quorum of 6,000 being required for certain votes.
Interestingly, however, it was the number 400 that Madison thought would "put an end to all fears arising from the smallness of the body." Madison was off in his estimate of when the House would reach 400 representatives, thinking this would take fifty years. It would actually have reached 600 by 1840 if Congress hadn't already raised the number of residents per representative a few times. But, it was when Madison's number of 400 was surpassed for the first time, with the reapportionment following the 1910 census raising the number from 394 to 435, that Congress decided to cap the size of the House at 435.
Here's some more from Federalist 55:
"The number of which this branch of the legislature is to consist, at the outset of the government, will be sixty-five. Within three years a census is to be taken, when the number may be augmented to one for every thirty thousand inhabitants; and within every successive period of ten years the census is to be renewed, and augmentations may continue to be made under the above limitation. It will not be thought an extravagant conjecture that the first census will, at the rate of one for every thirty thousand, raise the number of representatives to at least one hundred. Estimating the negroes in the proportion of three fifths, it can scarcely be doubted that the population of the United States will by that time, if it does not already, amount to three millions. At the expiration of twenty-five years, according to the computed rate of increase, the number of representatives will amount to two hundred, and of fifty years, to four hundred. This is a number which, I presume, will put an end to all fears arising from the smallness of the body...."
"I am equally unable to conceive that there are at this time, or can be in any short time, in the United States, any sixty-five or a hundred men capable of recommending themselves to the choice of the people at large, who would either desire or dare, within the short space of two years, to betray the solemn trust committed to them. What change of circumstances, time, and a fuller population of our country may produce, requires a prophetic spirit to declare, which makes no part of my pretensions. But judging from the circumstances now before us, and from the probable state of them within a moderate period of time, I must pronounce that the liberties of America cannot be unsafe in the number of hands proposed by the federal Constitution."
Can't get enough of Chuck Norris's political and constitutional insight? Have no fear. Apparently, much more is on the way. Norris's book, Black Belt Patriotism: How to Reawaken America, is scheduled for release in September -- perfect timing according to the publisher"s sell sheet because the release date is "right before the Republican National Convention and [the] author might be a featured speaker."
Here's what we have to look forward to, according to Norris's publisher:
"Martial arts master, actor, and political activist -- there is no job Chuck Norris can't do. Now the original tough guy is at it again, stepping back into the role of bestselling author with his new book, Black Belt Patriotism. In Black Belt Patriotism Norris gives a no-holds-barred assessment of American culture, tackling everything from family values to national security. More than a cultural critique of what's wrong with our nation, Black Belt Patriotism provides real solutions for solving our problems, moving our country forward, and changing our nation's course for the better. Chuck Norris -- the hero, icon, and legend -- is back, packing a political and cultural punch, as only he can deliver."
I know I can't wait to read this one!