Monday, July 09, 2007

Abolish the Senate

This article in Slate discusses abolition of the Senate:

“But even if the filibuster were scuttled, Geoghegan figures, 50 senators representing the 25 smallest states, and hence a mere 16 percent of the population, could still block passage of a bill favored by the other 84 percent of the population. (Assuming, of course, the tie-breaking vice president abstained or went along with the naysayers; with 50 senators, the vice president wouldn't be a factor.) Similarly, he points out, 51 senators representing "16 percent and a bit more" could pass any bill they wished, even if 84 percent of the population opposed it.”

Suppose the Senate were abolished and its functions transferred to the House. We would immediately save a bundle on salaries and expenses of 100 of the most self important men and women in the country. These luminaries could be released into the private sector or academia where their genius would benefit all mankind instead of being wasted in the stultifying institution of the Senate.

The Senate is supposed to be a more deliberative and dignified body, but I don’t reckon that it has shown itself to surpass the House in these characteristics. It is supposed by some to represent the sovereign states rather than the people, but the Senate has not demonstrated any commitment to state sovereignty to speak of in my lifetime.

I don’t see that we have anything to lose by getting rid of the Senate altogether. A bonus would be that the office of the Vice President would no longer have any function and could be done away with as well.


John_David_Galt said...
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John_David_Galt said...

You're right that the Senate no longer serves its original purpose (which was, in large part, to prevent the national government from butting into legislative topics that were reserved to the states by not being listed in Article I, Section 8).

The same can be said of the Electoral College -- not only because it gives a greater weight to voters in small states, but because as actually implemented, it skews its results in a second way: each state awards all its electors to the party that wins a narrow plurality in that state (so for instance, California nearly always gives all 54 of its electoral votes to the Democrat, when the state's mix of registered voters is actually quite balanced: 42% D, 30% R, 5% minor parties with Green being the largest, and the other 28% non-party-affiliated).

But it seems to me that the call to abolish the Senate has two major flaws. One is that it would clear up gridlock in the system, thus enabling Congress to pass laws at a higher rate of speed. The biggest problem with Congress is that they enact too many laws now!

The other flaw is that our system is supposed to be a republic, rather than a direct democracy, explicitly to act as a check on the public's constant demands that government "do something" about the phony emergency of the month, usually by screwing over whomever the media has picked as the scapegoat of the month.

I support your call for a constitutional convention, but I have my own agenda for what it needs to do. Let's start with these reforms of known problems.

1. Switch to electing one house of Congress by proportional representation (STV). Two reasons: this will make it harder to pass laws, especially those based on the fad-of-the-month; and since members of that house will no longer have districts, they will no longer have the incentive to "bring home pork" which has caused most of the growth of government in the last century. I don't care which house this change applies to; it could even be added as a third house. (I would NOT support electing more than one house this way; lawmaking would again become too easy.)

2. Fix the size of the Supreme Court, so that FDR's threat to pack it can never be repeated.

3. Give the Supreme Court the power to remove a president who disobeys one of its orders, thus restoring the "Rule of Law" that Andrew Jackson abolished when he went ahead and put the Cherokees on the "Trail of Tears" after the court ruled it illegal.

4. Create a recall process, to apply to officials in all three branches of government.

5. Have the people directly elect all Cabinet members.

6. Require direct national voter approval (in addition to all the legislative approvals required now) for:

a) All Constitutional amendments.

b) All treaties that trump anything in the Constitution.

c) All military alliances -- and put these up for re-vote every 10 years. (But give our allies a decent amount of notice -- say 3 years -- if we pull out of one.)

7. Enact a second Bill of Rights, mostly to correct all the horrible "interpretations" of the old one by 20th century courts. Here are some things I'd put in it:

a) There shall be no sovereign immunity, either for government entities or officials themselves. Anyone who is the victim of government or a particular official exceeding its/his authority is entitled to civil and criminal redress, just as if the official were a private citizen engaged in unauthorized extortion. An official so convicted shall be barred from all office for life.

b) You are entitled to recover all the cost to you of any search or seizure that doesn't result in a conviction.

c) No one can do wrong by resisting unlawful conduct by an official, including by force.

d) Any use of technology to gather information that would have required a warrant to gather in 1900 or 1950 (for instance, tracking your movement or tracing whom you talked with on the phone) shall require a warrant now. This includes the sorting and combining of data from sources such as store security cameras and toll collection systems.

e) Your car and everything in it are "personal effects" requiring a warrant to search.

f) Every time the police stop you, it is a "seizure" requiring probable cause. This means all checkpoints on the roads -- whether for DUI, immigration, or any other purpose, are illegal. It also means the Coast Guard will no longer have carte blanche to search anybody on the water.

g) Personal conduct by consenting adults such as sex and drug use shall be left up to each individual as a matter of absolute right, however risky that action may be. No act may be made illegal unless it objectively harms others or unduly risks harming them without their consent.

h) Neither polygraphs, truth serum, nor any future tech which can read or change the contents of another person's mind may be employed without the target person's informed consent, EVER. This is an absolute human right.

i) No tax funds may be used for propaganda on ANY controversy, whether or not it is a political question being put before voters. Thus, such programs as the ONDCP, the subsidies now given to women's groups by the Violence Against Women Act, and California's cigarette-tax-funded campaign to outlaw smoking must be abolished.

j) No police agency may profit from its operations. Thus, laws such as the drug forfeiture laws would not be allowed. In addition, the Constitution should make clear that property can't have intent to commit crime -- and that all schemes to punish somebody without calling it punishment (including the loss of gun rights after an accusation under the Violence Against Women Act) still require due process, which must include a conviction for the underlying crime.

k) Any lawsuit by any level of government, or by other deep-pockets plaintiffs, against a less-rich defendant should require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, just as in criminal cases. Government and rich people misuse these lawsuits today to win by outspending their opponents.

l) Enact a complete "loser-pays" rule for all legal cases, civil and criminal (but not against a poor defendant sued by a rich plaintiff).

m) The defendant in any civil or criminal case shall have the right to show the jury any evidence or testimony he thinks will help his case. No judge may instruct a jury, or require them to swear, not to interpret the law themselves.

n) Abolish "administrative law" as a violation of separation of powers. Require every regulation to be approved by Congress. This would limit the amount of damage they can do.

o) A "balanced budget" amendment with teeth in it: this year's outgo can't exceed LAST year's income.

p) Prohibit the national government from giving tax funding to anything not listed in Article I, Section 8 (and "the general welfare" doesn't count as listed). This is partly to prevent Congress from bullying state and local governments by conditionally giving them money.

q) Create a separation between Congress and the specifics of any spending, so that they can't "earmark" or "send pork home".

r) Clarify that freedom of religion means only that government must be neutral toward religious (and other) beliefs and must allow, but not require, the activities of worship and sharing one's beliefs with those willing to hear them. Thus, the first amendment does not require government to discriminate against religious people or organizations, but also does not exempt them from any general law not aimed at them.

I'll stop here so as not to flood your machine, but I have lots more.

Vache Folle said...

Thanks for sharing your ideas,JDG. I especially like the notion of proportional representation and getting rid of districts. That would have the benefit of getting rid of gerrymandered safe seats.

Anything that would lead to a proliferation of parties would be helpful as well, since you'd have to have a broad consensus to get anything done through coalition building.