THE BLOG
12/17/2010 04:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Tyranny Of The Senate -- Part One, John Jay's Prediction

We live in a new Age of Tyranny, a tyranny imposed by the United States Senate. Worse yet, it's not even the majority of the Senate that's been able to produce this obscenity against representative democracy. Governance in the United States of America has been usurped by the Senatorial minority, a minority so tiny in terms of the number of Americans they represent and the even smaller number of voters who have propelled them to their exalted position.

The Senate was never meant to be the authoritarian dictatorial body it has become. Take a look at the Constitution. Read the Federalist Papers. The Senate was supposed to be the voice of the States. Senators would be "chosen by the legislature"(Sec. 3) to represent the interests of the States and serve as a buffer against the popularly elected members of the House. John Jay wrote, in Federalist #64: "they (the Constitutional convention) have committed the appointment of senators to the State legislatures" because Jay knew that this method had a vast advantage over electing senators. Why? Because, wrote Jay, "elections by the people in their collective capacity, where the activity of party zeal, taking advantage of the supineness, the ignorance, and the hopes and fears of the unwary and interested, often places men in office by the small proportion of the electors."

Jay feared a "supine" electorate. That's not a word we hear often these days in political analysis. It means "utterly passive and inactive." Makes sense now, doesn't it, when hardly half the registered voters bother to vote and barely half those qualified to be registered ever do? Jay listed democracy's defects in perfect order: a voter base that was supine, ignorant, driven by hopes and fears as opposed to reason and good sense, and divided unevenly between the unwary or too cautious and the interested (here read: special interests). Such a combination, Jay speculated, might produce a Senate populated by members elected "by the votes of a small proportion of the electors." The Founding Fathers in Philadelphia agreed.

Appointment of US senators worked just fine so long as the several States actually had meaningful independent identities. For nearly the first 125 years, when someone said, "The United States of America" clearly they meant a union of sovereign, independent States. Only with the 20th century, with rapid industrialization, advances in technology, transportation and communications did "The United States of America" come to mean a single entity -- one nation no longer a union of separate and equal States. In 1913 we amended the constitution to end State appointment and provide for the direct election of senators. Since the States no longer mattered, they had effectively forfeited their right to equal representation. The Union, over which we fought The Civil War, was yesterday's creation. Outdated. Senators would soon come to represent their popular constituencies, which is to say they would represent only themselves and those special interests responsible for electing them. John Jay turned out to be exactly right. Elected senators would indeed find their way into public office with the support of only "a small proportion of the electors." In many cases a proportion so tiny it's shocking.

How can Americans think we live in a representative democracy when 100 senators, each with equal power and authority, each with only one vote, effectively exercise a veto over all public laws and all public spending? How cockeyed is the distribution of power in the Senate? Worse than you can imagine.

The four least populated States (Wyoming 544,270; Vermont 621,760; North Dakota 646,844 and Alaska 698,473) have 8 senators, 8 votes, 8% of all Senate votes. But, these four States have only 0.80% of the American people living within them. 8% of all senators for less than 1% of the population! While the four most populated States (California 36,961,664; Texas 24,782,302; New York 19,541,453 and Florida 18,537,969) also have 8 senators, 8 votes, 8% of Senate votes.

The 8 senators from the 4 smallest States represent 2,511,347 Americans. The 8 senators from the 4 biggest states represent 99,823,388 Americans! Split the Senate down the middle and you have half the senators from the 25 smallest States and half from the 25 biggest States. Then you'll see that the 25 smaller States represent 15% of the American people while the 25 bigger States represent 85% of the American people. But each gets 50% of all senators. How can that make sense?

Compare the votes for the most recently elected senators from the 4 largest and the 4 smallest States.

Boxer (CA) 4,377,730 Enzi (WY) 189,046
Cornyn (TX) 4,337,469 Leahy (VT) 148,444
Schumer (NY) 2,710,735 Hoeven (ND) 181,689
Rubio (FL 2,615,262 Mukowski (AK) 101,088

Who would believe it? We can see exactly what John Jay was thinking. Four senators elected by 14,041,196 Americans and four more senators elected by 620,267 Americans. And all 8 of these senators have the same voting power -- 1 vote each. Look again and you will see that each of the 4 most recently elected senators from California, Texas, New York and Florida each received more votes than all the residents of the 4 smallest States combined - not just all the voters, but all the actual residents. In Sen. Schumer's election, you could actually take away 2 million of his votes and he would still have more votes than Senators Enzi, Leahy, Hoeven and Murkowski put together!

What sort of representative democracy is this? None at all of course. It's a perversion of the term. It's a joke and the joke is on us.

My next blog, Part Two, will offer a way out, a reversal of this Senatorial tyranny, a return to democratic principles and constitutional values.