The Senate is a mess that wasn’t anticipated in the 18th century

2000px-seal_of_the_united_states_senate-svgThe massive differences in Senate representation of the populations of various states is a hot topic again, seeing as how we just had an election. And a common response to this is that the founders wanted this as a check of majority rule and the protect the interests of smaller states.

Which is pretty accurate, but ignores an important point: the founders were not dealing with state populations that varied as much as they do today. The Washington Post wrote about this a while back (which made me comment on it).

  • In 1800 the most populous state was Virginia and the smallest was Delaware. The population of Virginia was 13 times that of Delaware.
  • In 2010 California was the most populous state with a population 66 times that of the smallest, Wyoming.

As the US has urbanized over the years, population has been concentrated in fewer and fewer states, and the Senate has gone from a check that favored the smallest of a small number of states to an institution that’s wildly unrepresentative.

And expensive to become part of. At this point we might as well call it the House of Lords and let seats be passed down to children of wealthy officeholders.

The “but the founders…” argument is weak. The United States has changed a lot. It’s valid to discuss whether the Senate actually works as it was supposed to.

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