Jonah Goldberg

The founding fathers wanted the U.S. Congress to grow with the population - and it did until 1920 when it froze at 435, largely as a failed effort to limit immigrant political influence. The only time George Washington chimed in during the constitutional convention was to implore his colleagues to reduce the size of congressional districts to 30,000 from a proposed 40,000. In the Federalist Papers, James Madison defended the size of these districts from numerous critics who considered them too large! Such mammoth districts, the critics believed, would amount to a tyranny.

Today the average congressional district has about 600,000 people in it (single-district Montana has closer to 1 million). By comparison, in 1790, half of the 16 U.S. states didn't have a combined population of 600,000. By today's standards, the 1790 House of Representatives would have had seven members and the Senate 24.

All of the ideas for fixing congressional districting call for more and more undemocratic intrusions into the process, particularly by unelected federal judges. Liberals and sympathetic judges want more minority representation. Fine. Most of us want representatives to reflect the values of their communities. That's fine too. Lots of people want "big money" gone from congressional elections. Also fine.

Expanding Congress might solve all of these supposed problems. A bigger Congress would be far more open to blacks, Hispanics, et al, for obvious reasons. Because fewer people would be electing them, representatives would have every reason to spend more time talking to a bigger share of their communities. And as for the influence of money, money would become less important in districts where TV ad spending was less of a prerequisite. And if you're worried about pork-barrel spending, there's every reason to believe it would be harder to get pet projects through a bigger Congress.

I don't know if we should have districts of 30,000 these days. That would create a Congress of more than 8,000 representatives. But a couple thousand wouldn't be a bad way to start.

Yes, there'd be a seating problem in Congress. But those guys are never all there to begin with and the British Parliament has had a standing-room only section for years. All of the voting is computerized, so that's not an obstacle.

The only thing keeping this from happening is that Congress gets to decide. And there's no reason to expect those guys to divvy up their own picnic baskets.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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