Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Gross Unfairness of the Senate

The U.S. Senate, with its abused filibuster mechanism, is the place where legislation goes to die. I detest both the filibuster and the way the Senate is constituted. It is inherently unfair by any stretch of the imagination when it comes to any just understanding of democracy. Take, for example, resident population of the U.S. in 2009 broken down by state:

Reliably "Blue" states:
California - 37 million citizens - 2 Senators
New York - 19.5 million citizens - 2 Senators
TOTALS - 56.5 million citizens - 4 Senators

Reliably "Red" States:
Alaska - .7 million citizens - 2 Senators
Idaho - 1.6 million citizens - 2 Senators
Kansas - 2.8 million citizens - 2 Senators
Kentucky - 4.3 million citizens - 2 Senators
Mississippi - 3 million citizens - 2 Senators
Montana - 1 million citizens - 2 Senators
Nebraska - 1.8 million citizens - 2 Senators
North Dakota - .7 million citizens - 2 Senators
Oklahoma - 3.7 million citizens - 2 Senators
South Carolina - 4.5 million citizens - 2 Senators
South Dakota - .8 million citizens - 2 Senators
Texas - 24.8 million citizens - 2 Senators
Utah - 2.8 million citizens - 2 Senators
Wyoming - .6 million citizens - 2 Senators
TOTALS - 54.1 million citizens - 28 Senators

This includes the highest-ranked reliably conservative population state of Texas. And even if you put some of the small population liberal states in the mix, you'll never be able to match the gross disparity in representation here by always including the highest-ranked reliably liberal population state, California, in the mix. No matter what combination any conservative may try to put together that includes California and New York on the liberal side and Texas and Georgia on the conservative side, the balance will always penalize states that consistently lean liberal.

Lets look at it another way:

Top 15 population states: California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, Arizona, Massachusetts
Bottom 15 population states: Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Idaho, Nebraska, West Virginia, New Mexico

Even here, the imbalance is quite obvious. In the end, Liberals Democrats are always at a disadvantage in the Senate.

1 comment:

eric said...

I think it is an ingenious system and without this counterbalance to the political power of the more populous states we would constantly be on the verge of revolution. The fact that the most populous states can't easily get their way simpy means the system is working exactly as it was designed. Without that systemic counterbalance, the smaller states would never have agreed to join the Union in the first place, and any significant change to our system that consolidates power across the larger states, by any measure of fairness, would have to give each state an option to decide whether they wanted to stay in the union and operate under such an arrangement.

The place where I do empathize with your sentiments has to do w/ the filibuster. As you point out, there is no Constitutional basis for it. It is a procedural maneuver and there is nothing inherently wrong with changing it. I tend to support the filibuster from an ideological basis, but any defense I can mount for it is admittedly only skin deep (mostly, I like it because it makes new laws harder to pass, and I oppose most new laws). However, I'd note that the political problem with killing the filibuster is that the minority party (whoever they may be) never supports doing so, and the majority party will always look somewhat tyrannical and overreaching by attempting to do so.

But you do raise an interesting question here. If you could make mechanical changes to the Constitution (without adding or subtracting any rights) what would they be? I've thought about it quite a bit, and aside from term limits, a better definition of the Supreme Court's interpretive, and the ability of 2/3 of the state legislatures to repeal any law, I'm not sure I'd change much. I've heard a lot of arguments lately for going back to having Senators appointed by state legislatures instead of popular elections, and while I respect the merits of the argument, I can't quite stomach the idea.