The Maroon

Opinion: Restore democracy with Article the First

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Stanley Yavneh Klos, Visiting Professor, History, Rhetorical Theory,

Although much attention has been focused of late on the Women’s March held the day after President Trump’s Inauguration, there have been 32 marches on Washington, D.C. since the 2009 Tea Party protest that specifically sought legislation to benefit their respective causes.

Such legislation has typically been designed to make changes or additions to tax and spending laws that, constitutionally, must originate in the House of Representatives.

There are many reasons why citizens have taken to the streets in protest — Democracy Spring, Border Security and Climate Change — but there is one underlying cause of this populist unrest: U.S. citizens have lost their voice in the House of Representatives.

On the last day of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, President Washington, who had remained silent in the debates throughout the proceedings, addressed the delegates for the very first time.

Nathaniel Gorham, one of the signers of the United States Constitution, proposed, “for the purpose of lessening objections to the Constitution, that the clause declaring ‘the number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every 40,000′ be changed to 30,000.”

Washington rose, stating that he could not forbear expressing his wish that the alteration proposed might take place” because the smallness of the proportion of Representatives ensured the security for the rights & interests of the people and that this “appeared to himself among the exceptionable parts of the plan.”

In other words, Washington himself affirmed the importance of limiting the number of people represented by each member of Congress.

The proposal passed unanimously and two years later, to ensure that districts would remain small, the 1789 Congress proposed as its very first constitutional amendment capping Congressional Districts at 50,000 citizens.

The Bill of Rights, including the original “Article the First,” was passed on September 25, 1789 — alas, with a one-word error that rendered this original first amendment dysfunctional.

Apparently, it never occurred to the 1792 Congress that citizens would accept districts larger than 50,000 citizens so Article the First remains the only Bill of Rights amendment not ratified.

Today, the 1911-1929 House of Representative apportionment acts that capped the House membership at 435 representatives have ballooned Congressional District sizes to over 740,000 citizens.

These districts now require Representatives, if they want to get re-elected, to spend between six and seven hours a day seeking funds for their next 1.3 million dollar re-election campaign.

Currently, there are over 11,000 federally registered lobbyists that eagerly provide campaign capital to incumbents and challengers every two years. According to NPR and other sources, lobbyists are writing the House’s bills.

This ever-expanding Congressional District model has also forced Congress to increase the number of federally paid “HR Staffers” from 500 in 1910 to over 12,000 in 2016. These staffers, whose average age is 31, have outsourced legislative policy expertise to the private sector’s federally registered lobbyists.

The members of this 1789 Congress who passed Article the First included two future U.S. Presidents, three former Presidents of Congress, nine Declaration of Independence signers, four Articles of Confederation signers, and 15 U.S. Constitution Signers. Moreover, President George Washington, Chief Justice John Jay, Cabinet members Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Edmund Randolph, and Henry Knox all worked behind the scenes to constitutionally cap Congressional Districts at 50,000 citizens.

The framers avidly studied failed democracies such as those in Greece and Rome and were cynical about the future of an unchecked republic with no filter on the passionate protests of the moment.

They framed small congressional districts to provide a small town forum for public opinion, enabling the people to elect representatives who knew them personally to speak in the name of their neighbors.

The benefits of capping congressional districts would be paramount today.

Election cycle “likely voters” would statistically number between 13,000 to 21,000 citizens per district. Any citizen would be empowered to mount a viable grassroots campaign for Congress resulting in a House of Representatives comprised of leaders from all walks of life beholden only to their constituents.

Lobbyist and other special interest capital become superfluous in districts comprised of 13,000 to 21,000 “likely voters,” having little or no impact on legislative policy.

50,000 citizen districts eliminate the practice of cracking, packing and other gerrymandering techniques because the populations will be too small for states’ legislatures to splinter or pack groups without violating laws like the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The current 43,420 people per one Electoral College vote in Wyoming versus 705,454 people per one Electoral College vote in California would be rectified. A 50,000 citizen district results in one Wyoming Electoral College vote per 43,420 citizens while one California Electoral College vote would be cast by 50,918 citizens.

The current 435 cap on representatives is a public law, which can be changed to 50,000 citizen Congressional District cap with a simple majority vote in Congress.

The debates and letters clearly indicate that the Bill of Rights framers wanted the House of Representatives to remain a deliberative body, answerable to people and devoid of any undue influence by special interests.

It is time for discerning citizens, regardless of their politics, to unite and check the growing populist movement and resurrect public reason by building a bigger House of Representatives.

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Since 1923 • For a greater Loyola
Opinion: Restore democracy with Article the First