George Will

WASHINGTON -- A simple apology would have sufficed. Instead, Sen. Russ Feingold has decided to follow his McCain-Feingold evisceration of the First Amendment with Feingold-McCain, more vandalism against the Constitution.

The Wisconsin Democrat, who is steeped in his state's progressive tradition, says, as would-be amenders of the Constitution often do, that he is reluctant to tamper with the document, but tamper he must because the threat to the public weal is immense: Some governors have recently behaved badly in appointing people to fill U.S. Senate vacancies. Feingold's solution, of which John McCain is a co-sponsor, is to amend the 17th Amendment. It would be better to repeal it.

The Framers established election of senators by state legislators, under which system the nation got the Great Triumvirate (Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John Calhoun) and thrived. In 1913, progressives, believing that more, and more direct, democracy is always wonderful, got the 17th Amendment ratified. It stipulates popular election of senators, under which system Wisconsin has elected, among others, Joe McCarthy, as well as Feingold.

The 17th Amendment says that when Senate vacancies occur, "the executive authority" of the affected 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." Feingold's amendment says:

"No person shall be a Senator from a State unless such person has been elected by the people thereof. 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."

Feingold says mandating election of replacement senators is necessary to make the Senate as "responsive to the people as possible." Well. The House, directly elected and with two-year terms, was designed for responsiveness. The Senate, indirectly elected and with six-year terms, was to be more deliberative than responsive.

Furthermore, grounding the Senate in state legislatures served the structure of federalism. Giving the states an important role in determining the composition of the federal government gave the states power to resist what has happened since 1913 -- the progressive (in two senses) reduction of the states to administrative extensions of the federal government.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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