Stateline Story

States' Rights at Issue in 17th Amendment Debate

It has been a surprisingly common refrain on the campaign trail for Republican candidates this election cycle: Repeal the 17th Amendment to the United State Constitution and allow state legislatures, rather than voters, to select U.S. senators. The Idaho Republican Party supports the idea, as do GOP Senate candidates in Alaska and Utah, while Republican candidates in Colorado and Florida have considered it.

The Wall Street Journal provides background on the debate over the 17th Amendment in a story today (November 1). "The idea of repealing the 17th Amendment," the paper says, "has bounced around conservative and libertarian circles for years, but is enjoying a resurgence this year thanks to the rise of tea-party candidates, who often embrace a strict view of the Constitution."

It may seem odd that conservatives would advocate giving voters less of a say in the selection of senators, particularly given their long-standing support of judicial elections, for example (rather than the "merit selection" system, in which a nominating panel chooses judges and governors confirm them.) But The Journal notes that those who support the repeal of the 17th Amendment see it as a way for state legislatures to "kill federal legislation they don't like by recalling their senators," providing more balance in the relationship between the state and federal governments.

Opponents of repeal argue that it would limit democracy, and they point out that state legislatures are subject to their own political divisions, too. The Journal notes that the pre-17th Amendment system "began to break down in the late 19th century, when several states spent years squabbling over who to send to the Senate (and) local power brokers in state legislatures wielded outsized influence in Washington."

Meanwhile, for the editorial board of The Idaho Statesman — which has watched as the proposed repeal of the 17th Amendment has become an issue in the governor's race between incumbent Republican C.L. "Butch" Otter and Democrat Keith Allred — the debate is moot. That' s because repealing a constitutional amendment would require most states to be on board, which the paper considers extremely unlikely.

"State legislatures are not going to line up to take away a fundamental right that has been enjoyed by voters for nearly a century. It's not going to happen," it said in a recent editorial, calling repeal " the not-button issue of 2010 ."