Seventeenth Amendment

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Seventeenth Amendment

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.

The Seventeenth Amendment is the only constitutional amendment to change the fundamental structure of the government as originally drafted in the Constitution. The Seventeenth Amendment increased the American public’s ability to control the federal government, because it granted voters the opportunity to directly elect their representatives to the Senate. Before the amendment was ratified in 1913, state legislatures chose senators.

When the Constitution was written in 1787, many citizens wanted a “loose” union between the former colonies. This left the states with considerable powers to rule themselves as they wished. Under the original terms of the Constitution, the congressional houses divided the government’s power between the people and the states. Members popularly elected to the House of Representatives represented the American people, and states chose senators to represent them. The Seventeenth Amendment shifted the division of power in the government and gave the voters direct control over who represented their state.

Ratification Facts


Submitted by Congress to the states on May 13, 1912.


Ratified by the required three-fourths of states (thirty-six of forty-eight) by April 8, 1913, and by nine more states by March 9, 1922. Declared to be part of the Constitution on May 31, 1913.

Ratifying States:

Massachusetts, May 22, 1912; Arizona, June 3, 1912; Minnesota, June 10, 1912; New York, January 15, 1913; Kansas, January 17, 1913; Oregon, January 23, 1913; North Carolina, January 25, 1913; California, January 28, 1913; Michigan, January 28, 1913; Iowa, January 30, 1913; Montana, January 30, 1913; Idaho, January 31, 1913; West Virginia, February 4, 1913; Colorado, February 5, 1913; Nevada, February 6, 1913; Texas, February 7, 1913; Washington, February 7, 1913; Wyoming, February 8, 1913; Arkansas, February 11, 1913; Maine, February 11, 1913; Illinois, February 13, 1913; North Dakota, February 14, 1913; Wisconsin, February 18, 1913; Indiana, February 19, 1913; New Hampshire, February 19, 1913; Vermont, February 19, 1913; South Dakota, February 19, 1913; Oklahoma, February 24, 1913; Ohio, February 25, 1913; Missouri, March 7, 1913; New Mexico, March 13, 1913; Nebraska, March 14, 1913; New Jersey, March 17, 1913; Tennessee, April 1, 1913; Pennsylvania, April 2, 1913; Connecticut, April 8, 1913.

Origins of the Seventeenth Amendment

When statesmen gathered at Independence Hall in Philadelphia in 1787, they intended to alter the Articles of Confederation and provide the framework for the new nation’s government. The Articles of Confederation outlined a country united by a weak federal government and strong states. However, the statesmen soon realized that a much stronger central government was needed in order to keep the union stable and at peace. They defined this new government in the Constitution.

Checks and balances

Having just won freedom from the unresponsive British monarchy, the American statesmen worked to create a responsive government of and by the people. Some statesmen feared that giving the public too much authority would subject the government to popular whims and lead to chaos and instability. These statesmen favored a government that included a system of checks and balances between the governing bodies.

The checks and balances would protect the American people from themselves by allowing separate parts of the government to discuss an issue before committing the country to action. The resulting Constitution detailed such a system of checks and balances. In essays known as The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote that the checks and balances would protect the government and American people from “the blow meditated by the people against themselves, until reason, justice, and truth can regain their authority over the public mind.”

Protecting the people from themselves.

The Senate’s primary role in the new government was to provide a check on all legislation passed by Congress, or the lower house. It could also reject any treaty or political appointment initiated by the president. The framers of the Constitution reasoned that citizens were qualified to make good decisions about their representatives in the state legislatures. However, the framers felt those same citizens would not make good choices of senators to represent their state in the federal government.

The framers feared that citizens might vote for undeserving politicians or that corrupt political interest groups who would take “advantage of the [indifference], the ignorance, and the hopes and fears of the unwary and interested.” The framers of the Constitution considered the Senate an anchor against such corruption.

In addition, the framers considered a Senate chosen by state legislatures a good balance against a popularly elected Congress. The framers thought it unlikely that special interest groups would gain control if both houses were elected by different means. This would let the Senate and the Congress form a barrier against an interest group gaining control of legislative power. During the deliberations in Independence Hall, only James Wilson of Pennsylvania argued for the direct election (election by the people) of senators. But the decision to let state legislatures vote for senators was eventually adopted unanimously.

The “Great Compromise.”

The number of senators serving in the Senate was determined during the Federal Convention of 1787 in what is known as the “Great Compromise.” Individual states differed in size. They argued about how to select government representatives: depending on the state’s population or regardless of size. They compromised and created the House of Representatives. The House would represent the people of the states, and the Senate would represent the individual states. Two senators would represent each state. Large and small states alike were satisfied with the arrangement and never again competed for more representation at the federal level.

Corruption in the Senate

Until the end of the Civil War (1861-65), the U.S. Senate enjoyed a reputation as the “greatest deliberative (thinking) body in the Western world.” The Senate garnered the attention and praise of influential foreign dignitaries. After the Civil War, however, the Senate turned into a place where the interests of big businesses soon carried more weight than reasoned debate.

After the Civil War, great wealth was generated for a small group of businessmen as industries combined and started to serve national markets. Railroads and other transportation companies were among those corporations that grew to serve a national market. Never before had so few companies controlled so much economic power. For example, the areas where railroads laid their tracks enjoyed more jobs, more tourists, and more access to markets than other areas.

Big business takes over

State legislatures quickly learned that they could use senatorial seats to gain favor with the influential businesses that brought wealth and jobs to their states. In turn, businessmen pursued senatorial seats when federal regulations started to impose limits on, or to provide benefits to, their businesses. In large cities such as Chicago, Kansas City, and New York City political bosses (businessmen who exerted a controlling force on political decisions) soon gained enough power to influence senatorial elections.

Political bosses and other influential politicians and businessmen bought the votes of state legislatures or strong-armed (bullied) them, to effectively control who became a U.S. senator. If a candidate was not favored, wealthy businessmen or lobbyists for certain industries gave huge sums of money to all candidates. The money did not support a certain political viewpoint. Instead, the winning candidate was obligated to whoever gave him the money.

Senator Chauncey Mitchell Depew was a prime example of this corruption. David Graham Phillips (see sidebar) wrote a muckraking article. He called Senator Depew “an ideal lieutenant for a plutocrat” and exposed Senator Depew’s connection with furthering the interests of the powerful William H. Vanderbilt family. (The Vanderbilts’ tried to push through legislation that would benefit their railroad between New York City and Buffalo, New York.) Phillips also linked corrupt senators and businessmen to legislation concerning beef inspection, food and drug purity standards, railroad regulations, and sugar subsidies (government granted money), among other things.

Muckrakers expose big business

The American public was not blind to the Senate’s corruption. Articles appeared in magazines and newspapers, telling tales of the corruption. The stories of the purchase of senatorial votes by political interest groups or wealthy businessmen were fantastic and sometimes exaggerated. However, they generated intense scrutiny of the Senate, and the voting records of its members. Skeptical people rejected the notion that many senators could be bribed, but they were also not blind to the number of millionaires in the Senate.

The “Millionaire’s Club.”

The Senate became known as “The Millionaire’s Club,” “The Rich Man’s Club,” and the “House of Dollars.” Among the millionaire senators were Philetus Sawyer of Wisconsin, who made his millions in lumber; California railroad magnate Leland Stanford; Arthur Gorman of Maryland, who ran the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company; and Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island, who made millions in banking. The opinion that the Senate represented corporate wealth grew in popularity.

State legislatures hinder senatorial elections.

Corporate influence in the Senate was not the only problem with the legislative body. In the early 1800s, some states provided senators with written instructions for how they should vote on certain issues. Some senators resigned when their own beliefs did not coincide with their state’s wishes. Among them were John Quincy Adams in 1807 and John Tyler of Virginia in 1836. By the mid-1800s, states stopped making rules for how senators voted.

The influence of political parties in senatorial elections.

Some historians trace the influence of political parties in senatorial elections back to the first one in 1789. Early political parties represented different factions or commercial interests within the state. By the mid-1800s, political parties were more nationally organized and dominated senatorial elections.

In some states, political parties would hold state conventions to choose their party’s nominee. The party’s representatives in the state legislature then promised to vote for their party’s nominee. Sometimes politicians were unwilling to vote for someone of another political party, and debates in state legislatures dragged on for months. Occasionally, this left states without representatives during some Congresses.


George H. Haynes, a respected Senate historian, wrote that the sessions would sometimes degenerate into “riotous demonstrations more appropriate to a prize-fight than to a senatorial election.” In one particularly colorful instance, the Missouri state legislators threw fists, desks, and books at each other. The fight erupted over whether to break the wall clock, and allow deliberations over senatorial selections to continue after the scheduled hour of adjournment (closing). One member finally broke the clock by hurling ink bottles at it. “It is ridiculous to suggest that amid scenes like these the choice of a senator retains anything of the character of an exercise of cool judgment.”

These types of sessions resulted in poor decisions, or no decisions at all. The most extreme case of state legislature paralysis was in Delaware. The Delaware state legislature’s inability to elect even one senator left the state without any representation in the federal government between 1901 and 1903. Other states succeeded in electing only one senator or elected senators after the Senate had already started a session.

A Push for Direct Election of Senators

Between 1826 and 1912, more than 197 resolutions for direct election of senators were introduced in the House of Representatives. Only six received the necessary two-thirds majority vote needed to reach the Senate. Once in the Senate, all of these resolutions were ignored. In 1910, the only resolution ever debated lost by a narrow margin.

As the Senate continued to ignore the public’s will over the years, reformers of the election process were forced to unite across political parties. Though movement in the federal legislature was slow, political pressures to change the election process for senators gradually built momentum.

As early as the 1880s and 1890s, reform advocates (supporters) declared that[MM1] “special interests had conspired to hold the Senate hostage,” and “the documentation they presented to the public painted a horrifying picture of a widespread network of corrupt bargains, in which wealth and power were exchanged for influence and votes.”

Political parties made direct election of senators a part of their presidential platforms. It started with the People’s Party between 1892 and 1904 and was followed by the Democratic Party in 1900 and 1904 and then the Prohibition Party in 1904. The Pennsylvania legislature proposed a second Constitutional Convention in 1900. By 1905, thirty-one states had either passed referendums proposing that Congress consider a constitutional amendment or otherwise voiced their support for direct election.

With the publication of muckraking articles such as David Graham Phillips’s “The Treason of the Senate” that appeared in Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1906, public interest in direct election mounted. Demand for reform was so great that the 57th Congress printed an additional 5,000 copies of the Senate committee report on direct election.

A report of the Senate conducted during the 58th Congress (1903-1905) was published in 1906. It revealed that “One senator out of every three owes his election to his personal wealth, to his being the candidate satisfactory to what is coming to be called the ‘System,’ or to his expertness in political manipulation—qualifications which make their usefulness as members of the dominant branch of Congress decidedly open to question.”

In 1906 alone, nine resolutions for direct election were put before Congress. The American public agreed that direct election would free the Senate from corrupting influences. In 1911, Indiana representative John A. Adair argued in Congress that direct election would fill the Senate with people with “rugged honesty, recognized ability, admitted capacity, and wide experience.”

Popular election of Senators without an amendment

Reformers looked for alternatives when they were unable to pass amendment proposals through the Senate or to gain enough support for a second Constitutional Convention. To appease popular pressure for direct election of senators, some states invented a new voting method to allow the public to select senators. The new method was called a primary election.

Oregon developed the first primary elections between 1901 and 1904. With this method, people voted for candidates in primary elections. The state legislatures would then officially elect the primary’s winner to the Senate. Candidates pledged to uphold the popular primary elections during their tenure. Primary elections quickly delivered the desired reduction in deadlock and corruption in senatorial elections. An Oregon paper reported in 1907 that “On the first ballot, in twenty minutes, we elected two Senators, without boodle, or booze, or even a cigar!” By 1910, fourteen of the thirty states used primary elections to select senators.

Muckraking and the Seventeenth Amendment

Muckraking is a form of journalism. It was used in the early 1900s and boldly attempted to reveal some essential truth about public figures, political issues, or institutions. Muckrakers published articles that exposed corruptions in American government. According to George E. Mowry and Judson A. Grenier, muckrakers followed the advice of a biblical passage from St. John: “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”

The articles enjoyed a great deal of popularity. Journalists such as Samuel Hopkins Adams, Ray Stannard Baker, Charles Edward Russell, Upton Sinclair, and Ida M. Tarbell became household names. Their vivid articles reached the readers of magazines such as McClure’s,Collier’s, the American,and Cosmopolitan.

Muckrakers were primarily concerned with exposing the privileges that money bought in political life. The Industrial Revolution had created great wealth, but only for a very few. Muckrakers worked hard to show just how much influence this new wealth affected the government.

The villains in the thousands of muckraking stories were greedy businessmen or what muckrakers called “predatory wealth.” To stop these corrupt businessmen, muckrakers called for greater democracy. They considered it “the inevitable sequence of widespread intelligence.” Publishers also made greater democracy a rallying cry. As early as February 5, 1899, William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers made the direct election of U.S. senators a firm editorial quest.

The height of the Muckraking Era came in 1906 when David Graham Phillips published “The Treason of the Senate” articles in Cosmopolitan. In his articles, Phillips examined the corruption of the Senate. One of the most important issues Phillips tackled was the millionaires in the Senate.

Charles Edward Russell was a fellow muckraker who believed the Senate was made up of senators who used their seats to make millions, Russell called the Senate a house made up of “butlers for industrialists and financiers.”

Phillips reported that as many as twenty-five senators were millionaires at the time of his writing. (Some scholars estimate the number was actually closer to ten.) Powerful businessmen with great interest in creating laws to protect their companies often sought election. Phillips wondered whether it was better to elect these millionaires or to have them bribe senators.

Phillips profiled the careers of twenty-one senators and declared that senatorial selection was based on private wealth and power in party organizations. Phillips called senators “grafters,” “bribers,” and “perjurers,” and exposed decisions in which senators favored the interests of their corporate backers over the interests of the public.

President Roosevelt grew more frustrated with each monthly muckraking installment. He told the Post editor:

“Phillips takes certain facts that are true in themselves, and by ignoring utterly a very much larger mass of facts that are just as true and just as important, and by downright perversion of truth both in the way of misstatement and of omission, succeeds in giving a totally false picture … [The articles] give no accurate guide for those who are really anxious to war against corruption, and they do excite a hysterical and ignorant feeling against everything existing, good or bad.”

But Phillips responded to critics by stating that “these articles have been attacked, but their facts—the facts of the treason of the Senate, taken from the records—have not been attacked. Abuse is not refutation (a proof of being wrong); it is confession.” He added, “The exposed cry out that these exposures endanger the Republic. What a ludicrous inversion—the burglar shouting that the house is falling because he is being ejected from it? The Republic is not in danger; it is its enemies that are in danger.”

In the end, “The Treason of the Senate” and other muckraking articles stirred what President Roosevelt labeled “a revolutionary feeling in the country.” The muckraking articles were read by hundreds of thousands of people and helped reformers generate popular consensus for the eventual ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment.

Race and Ratification

Another issue complicated the political power struggle over senatorial elections between the American public and corporate interests: the power of African American votes. Black votes could influence senatorial elections, and this was why some southern senators were reluctant about direct election proposals.

The South had a long history of denying blacks the right to vote. The Fourteenth Amendment established equal rights for all citizens. The Fifteenth Amendment granted people of all races and colors the right to vote. Even after these amendments were ratified, southern states implemented poll taxes and literacy tests to keep as many blacks as possible from voting. To ensure that whites retained control at the polls, southern Democrats insisted that every proposal for direct election gave states the authority to regulate elections.

The race rider

A proposal for the first vote on direct election in the full Senate emerged from the Senate’s Judiciary Committee in 1910. The proposal had a provision that proved so controversial that it doomed the proposal from a passing vote. The provision was nicknamed the “race rider.”

The race rider ensured that states would control election regulations. It had been added in the Judiciary Committee as a compromise to win Democratic votes. But when senators in the full Senate debated the proposal, many balked at the race rider. They declared it would effectively reverse the Fifteenth Amendment by allowing states to racially discriminate against some voters. Chauncey Depew of New York opposed it, saying that passing the proposal would be “deliberately voting to undo the results of the Civil War.”

The direct election amendment failed to pass in the Senate in 1910, but several senators encouraged continued discussion of the issue. Over the next year, the House and the Senate continued to debate the race rider. The rider was the only real obstacle to the direct election proposal passing in both houses. After two months of intense debate, the Senate almost passed the proposal without the race rider on February 28, 1911. It was a fifty-four to thirty-three margin (four not voting)—just four votes short of the needed two-thirds majority.

Congress went back and forth over the addition or removal of the race rider. The House voted on the amendment issue again in April 1911. The amendment passed with a race rider by a margin of 296 to 16 (70 not voting). The Senate discarded the race rider and passed the revised proposal with the required two-thirds supermajority by a margin of 64 to 24 (three not voting). Instead of quickly passing the revised version of the proposal, the House entered into yet further debate. Representative Walter Rucker proposed to abandon the race rider on May 13, 1912. The House voted again, and this time passed the revised amendment proposal by a margin of 238 to 39 (five voted “present,” and 110 not voting).

Unlike the congressional houses, the states did not wrangle over the direct-election amendment. The amendment swiftly passed through state legislatures in less than a year and became the Seventeenth Amendment on April 8, 1913. Although the amendment decreased the power of the states, the state legislatures seemed more than happy to pass it. With the use of primary elections, many of the U.S. senators had already been selected by popular vote. To many, the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment simply formalized a practice of direct election that was already widely used.

White primaries

Although the Seventeenth Amendment was ratified without a race rider, many states found ways to limit black voters from participating in senatorial elections. To keep minorities from the polls, southern states instituted poll taxes and literacy tests. These taxes made voting too expensive for poorer blacks. The literacy tests tested people’s knowledge of the meaning of the state constitution. By the 1920s, the “white primary” was the main way southern states blocked blacks and other minorities from voting for senators. The white primary was named as such after southern political parties made exclusive rules to forbid minority membership.

In the South, the Democratic Party did not allow black members. To make matters even more unfair, state legislatures only allowed party members to vote in primary elections. Up until the 1960s, the Democratic Party was so strong in the South that Democratic nominees nearly always won election. Sometimes the Republican Party did not even bother to select a party candidate. Because the Democratic Party dominated southern politics, whites were the only people allowed to vote in most primary elections.

It took several decades and several court cases to stop discriminatory voting practices in the South. One of the most influential cases was Chapman v. King in 1946. In Chapman, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the Democratic primary in Georgia violated black people’s constitutional right to vote.

The court ruled that since the Georgia state legislature accepted the Democratic primary candidate, the state also endorsed the Democratic Party’s discriminatory rules against black participation. By doing this, the Georgia state legislature denied African Americans their constitutional right to vote for their own representatives. Though the court’s decision was favorable, southern blacks endured many more decades of discrimination before they could fully exercise their right to vote for U.S. senators.

The white primary effectively stopped black voters from voting until the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. The Voting Rights Act came at the crest of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The Twenty-fourth Amendment abolished the poll tax in 1962, but it did not end all obstacles for minority voters. The amendment helped rally support for further guarantees for minorities. President Lyndon B. Johnson supported both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act. The Civil Rights Act made discriminatory practices in employment, education, and public places illegal The Voting Rights Act similarly rendered illegal the remaining deterrents that stopped minorities from voting.

The Progressive Amendments

The Seventeenth Amendment is tied to a time between when Americans united and gave themselves more control over their public and private lives. The time is called the Progressive Era, and it lasted from about 1900 to 1920. The “Progressive” amendments are: the Sixteenth Amendment, the Seventeenth Amendment, and the Nineteenth Amendment. (The Sixteenth Amendment established a federal income tax, and the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote.)

The Seventeenth Amendment made the federal government more democratic. It was the greatest alteration to the workings of the state and federal governments since the Civil War amendments—the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth. (Together, they abolished slavery, established equal rights for all citizens, and granted all races the right to vote.)

New ways to use amendments

The passage of the Sixteenth and the Seventeenth Amendments in 1913 ushered in a wave of new thinking about the purpose of constitutional amendments. During the forty years following the Civil War, no constitutional amendments were ratified. Hundreds of amendments were proposed during those forty years. However, none could gain the two-thirds majority vote needed to ratify them. Politicians and social advocates questioned the usefulness of the Constitution, thinking it was inflexible.

But when two constitutional amendments were ratified in the same year, constitutional amendments seemed like realistic solutions to a variety of social and political problems. The American public recognized the power constitutional amendments had to redirect the activities of government. Perhaps more important, Americans also realized their own ability to effectively change the Constitution to create a government that was responsive to current needs and values.

The ratification of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments in the same year was “a political reaction to the great concentration of wealth and its alleged corrupting influence on the political system.” In reaction to the alterations in the country’s economic structure brought about by the Civil War, the American public demanded a more equal tax structure. The Sixteenth Amendment provided that tax structure and laid the groundwork for weakening the concentration of wealth in the country.

But the public grew frustrated as it heard about the Senate debates over the Sixteenth Amendment. Senators who owned or were influenced by the large corporations tried to block the amendment. This situation drew the public’s attention to the great number of millionaires in the Senate. The public was angry that the wealthy senators would not pass a more equitable tax system, and they wondered how to make the senators more responsive to their views. Public outcry to the senators’ attempts to block the Sixteenth Amendment helped to push the Seventeenth Amendment through the Senate.

The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendment paved the way for Progressive advocates to succeed in passing the other Progressive amendments. The other amendments were designed to take control of government from large corporations and give it back to the people. Constitutional amendments fixed more than just governmental procedural problems. They were ways to restrict alcohol use, grant voting rights for women, and regulate child labor.

Effects of the Seventeenth Amendment

The Seventeenth Amendment succeeded in some ways, but failed in others. The Seventeenth Amendment made the Senate more responsive to the American public. The American public gained greater access to senators and influence in senators’ decisions on many issues of national and international importance. Senators, who must run for election and reelection, discovered that the best policy is to aim for openness and responsiveness to public opinion.

One area in which the Senate has been accused of being too responsive to the public is in its handling of presidential appointments to the Supreme Court. Public opinion heavily influenced Senate reactions during two appointment processes. First, in 1987 when President Ronald Reagan (1911–2004; served 1981–89) nominated Robert H. Bork, and next in 1991 when President George H. Bush (1924–; served 1989–93) successfully appointed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

The Senate’s Judiciary Committee considers Supreme Court candidates and can also generate strong public reactions. News stories triggered heated public opposition to the Bork and Thomas nominations. The network news reported about Judge Bork’s perceived (by Democrats) controversial legal opinions and theories on constitutional law, and there were televised hearings of sexual harassment charges brought against Clarence Thomas by law professor Anita Hill, a former employee who worked for Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Although many anticipated that direct election would make U.S. senators prone to popular whims, the Seventeenth Amendment also changed the Senate in unexpected ways. Rather than ridding the Senate of millionaires, the amendment heightened the importance of money in the Senate.

Compared to the ten millionaires in the Senate in 1900, there were more than twenty-five by the mid-1990s. Senators must constantly campaign in order to raise the funds needed for reelection. It is estimated that senators must raise approximately $15,000 for each week of their six-year terms. Candidates in California have spent more than $10 million to secure a Senate seat. By the 1990s, an average expenditure per seat in other states had reached $5 million.

Criticism in the early 2000s of the Seventeenth Amendment

In the early 2000s, many groups and commentators have called for the repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment, believing that modern elections have become too costly and allowed special interest groups to exert too much influence over the process. In the view of these critics, the Seventeenth Amendment reduced the influence of states and expanded the role of special-interest groups. Others believe that the Seventeenth Amendment has elevated the power of the federal government too far above that of the states. The reasoning is that before the Seventeenth Amendment, state legislatures had the power to decide who served in the Senate. Such senators naturally would look more to state interests. The Seventeenth Amendment removed the direct pipeline from state legislatures to the U.S. Senate. Some have argued that another impact of the Seventeenth Amendment: It causes federal courts to be more likely to strike down state laws. Professor Donald J. Kochan wrote in 2003: “there is substantial empirical evidence that suggests that the Seventeenth Amendment may have altered the relationship between state legislatures and federal courts.”

In April 2004, Senator Zell Miller (Democrat, Georgia) introduced Senate Joint Resolution 135, which called for the repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment. In introducing the measure to his colleagues on the Senate floor, Miller said:

Perhaps, then, the answer is a return to the original thinking of those wisest of all men, and how they intended for this government to function. Federalism, for all practical purposes, has become to this generation of leaders, some vague philosophy of the past that is dead, dead, dead. It isn’t even on life support. The line on that monitor went flat some time ago. You see, the reformers of the early 1900s killed it dead and cremated the body when they allowed for the direct election of U.S. senators. Up until then, senators were chosen by State legislatures, as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton had so carefully crafted. Direct elections of senators, as great and as good as that sounds, allowed Washington’s special interests to call the shots, whether it is filling judicial vacancies, passing laws, or issuing regulations. The State governments aided in their own collective suicide by going along with that popular fad at the time. … The Seventeenth Amendment was the death of the careful balance between State and Federal Government. As designed by that brilliant and very practical group of Founding Fathers, the two governments would be in competition with each other and neither could abuse or threaten the other. The election of senators by the state legislatures was the lynchpin that guaranteed the interests of the states would be protected.

Efforts have also been made in state legislatures, including Montana, to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment.



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Haskell, John. Direct Democracy or Representative Government?: Dispelling the Populist Myth. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2001.

Holzer, Henry Mark. Supreme Court Opinions of Clarence Thomas (1991–2006): A Conservative’s Perspective. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2007.

Merida, Kevin, and Michael Fletcher. Supreme Discomfort: The Divided Soul of Clarence Thomas. New York: Doubleday, 2007.

Rossum, Ralph A. Federalism, the Supreme Court, and the Seventeenth Amendment: The Irony of Constitutional Democracy. Lexington, MA: Lexington Press, 2001.


Kochan, Donald J. “State Laws and the Independent Judiciary: An Analysis of the Effects of the Seventeenth Amendment on the Number of Supreme Court Cases Holding State Laws Unconstitutional.” Albany Law Review, vol. 66, (2003).

Rossum, Ralph A. “The Irony of Constitutional Democracy: Federalism, the Supreme Court, and the Seventeenth Amendment.” San Diego Law Review, vol. 36, (1999).

Web sites

The Center for Constitutional Studies. (accessed August 22, 2007) .

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“Repeal the Seventeen Amendment.” (accessed August 22, 2007).

“Things that Are Not in the U.S. Constitution.” The U.S. Constitution Online. http:/ (accessed August 22, 2007).

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Seventeenth Amendment

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