Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

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The Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides for direct election of U.S. Senators by the people of the state they represent. Prior to its enactment, some states' laws had provided for the appointment of Senators by the state legislature. James MacMullin advocates repealing the Seventeenth Amendment.[1]


A common argument against the Seventeenth Amendment is that it reduces the influence of state politicians in the federal system; this increases the tendency to expand federal power. This assumes, however, that the state politicians are opposed to the expansion of federal power, and that the voters are supportive of expanding federal power. Since the same voters who, under the Seventeenth Amendment, elect U.S. Senators also elect the state legislators, presumably those legislators tend to share those voters' opinions, including perhaps their opinions on how powerful the federal government should be.

Agency problems presumably increase as additional layers of indirect election are added. This is sometimes viewed as a strength rather than a weakness of a system, since an electorate may choose its best decision-makers as representatives, and those representatives may in turn, using their superior decision-making power, choose an even better decision-maker as a super-representative. A criticism of this is that the electorate needs more information to choose a representative than to actually make the decisions that the representative would make.[2]


  1. MacMullin, James. "Repeal the 17th". 
  2. Rothbard, Murray. "Democracy". Power and Market. "Furthermore, the “modern democrat” who scoffs at direct democracy on the ground that the people are not intelligent or informed enough to decide the complex issues of government, is caught in another fatal contradiction: he assumes that the people are sufficiently intelligent and informed to vote on the people who will make these decisions. But if a voter is not competent to decide issues A, B, C, etc., how in the world could he possibly be qualified to decide whether Mr. X or Mr. Y is better able to handle A, B, or C? In order to make this decision, the voter would have to know a great deal about the issues and know enough about the persons whom he is selecting. In short, he would probably have to know more in a representative than in a direct democracy. Furthermore, the average voter is necessarily less qualified to choose persons to decide issues than he is to vote on the issues themselves. For the issues are at least intelligible to him, and he can understand some of their relevance; but the candidates are people whom he cannot possibly know personally and whom he therefore knows essentially nothing about. Hence, he can vote for them only on the basis of their external “personalities,” glamorous smiles, etc., rather than on their actual competence; as a result, however ill-informed the voter, his choice is almost bound to be less intelligent under a representative republic than in a direct democracy."