How We Can Restore Faith in Our Representative Government
Democrats and Republicans agree on very little these days – taxes, abortion, immigration, LGBT issues, or education. However, Democrats and Republicans are united in their assessment that our current system is not working. Democrats believe that smaller Republican states have an outsized say in national politics, and Republicans are convinced that Democrats would use slim majorities to try to push the will of the East and West coasts on the Heartland.
I believe there are a few amendments we could make to the Constitution that would restore faith in our republican system of government. The Founding Fathers recognized that the Constitution would need to be changed to address future crises and problems, so they put an amendment into place. When we realized that the person who finished second in the Presidential voting serving as Vice President is awkward and counterproductive, we fixed it. We have used amendments to ban slavery, expand voting rights, limit Congress’s ability to raise their own pay immediately, and call for the direct election of Senators.
I believe that these four amendments to the Constitution would ultimately strengthen our system. For these changes to be implemented, they would have to be ratified by 37 of 50 states, so there would be broad acceptance by most of the country.
I recognize that gerrymandering is as old as the republic itself. However, this practice produces House districts that have no chance of being competitive in a general election. This means that the candidate who does the best job of appealing to their base will most likely win. This gives us candidates who know how to play to the people who agree with them but have no interest in responsible government.
When we end gerrymandering, we will produce districts that are genuinely competitive, or as people call them, purple districts. Candidates will only win the general elections in these districts by appealing to a broad section of the district. Then, when they get to Washington, they will have to govern effectively or run a real risk of defeat in the next election.
Expand the House of Representatives
The House of Representatives has had 435 seats since 1913, except for a short period after Hawaiian and Alaskan statehood expanded it to 437. Our population in 1913 was around 93 million and has multiplied to 330 million. The number of constituents each House member represents has ballooned by three and a half times.
Expanding the House would accomplish several purposes. First, it would give each Representative fewer constituents so they could be more responsive to them. In addition, the House would be more diverse and more accurately reflect the pantheon of the American identity. In addition, this would increase the number of votes in the Electoral College, which would force candidates to compete in a larger number of states.
End Lifetime Supreme Court Appointments
Have you noticed that every Supreme Court vacancy creates an apocalyptic showdown? Because Supreme Court justices remain on the court long after the President who appointed them is out of office, we recognize the importance of the people who serve on the Court. For example, President George H.W. Bush’s one term as President ended in 1993, but Bush-appointee Clarence Thomas still sits on the bench, lasting through the H.W. Bush, Clinton, W. Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations. Supreme Court appointments are decisions that echo for the next generation and a half.
When the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution with its lifetime Supreme Court appointments, life expectancies were much shorter. We could honor their concern to keep judges above politics while recognizing that circumstances have changed by limiting Supreme Court appointments to 18 years. This is longer than four Presidential terms of office, so it keeps them from feeling like they are running for office, but it also ensures regular enough turnover on the Court that every appointment does not turn into a winner take all battle royal.
Enforce a Talking Filibuster
There has been a lot of discussion about the filibuster over the last several months, especially since the Republicans have successfully used it to block aspects of President Biden’s agenda. Democrats have been on a mission to abolish the filibuster, which is odd because they have acted to protect it when they were in the minority.
The filibuster protects the rights of the minority party and ensures that sweeping change cannot be ushered in through a bare majority. At the same time, the filibuster has often been used to bring legislation to a screeching halt and tied the Senate’s hands unnecessarily.
There is a simple answer to this–if Senators want to use the filibuster, they actually have to stand up and talk. Rather than being able to hide behind the simple threat of the filibuster, make them stand up in front of the country and read the phonebook. If a Senator’s constituents get fed up with seeing them blocking legislation, they will let him know. This takes the Senate’s deliberations out of the shadows and brings them into the light while still protecting the legislative prerogatives of the minority party.
Ultimately, whether or not these changes would make a lasting difference depends on us as a people working within the system and trusting outcomes. We work for change, applaud them when we accomplish them and refuse to undermine the system when they don’t.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
Photo courtesy: Maria Oswalt/Unsplash
Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”