CLAY JENKINSON: It’s Time For National Majority Rule

The time has come for us to reconsider the U.S. Senate. It is easy enough to understand how the Senate wound up in 1787 with two senators per state irrespective of size and population, but how can it be just and democratic now when Wyoming has about half a million people and California 40 million and they both have the same number of U.S. senators? This gives the state of Wyoming 80 times the power of California in the Senate.

If we refuse to amend the Constitution to create at least a moderately more democratic model of the Senate, we should at least end the filibuster, which permits 10 states to stall legislation. This violates the principle of majority rule. Fifty-one percent wins votes in the U.S. House of Representatives. Why should not the same principle prevail in the Senate?

It’s worse than that, actually. The filibuster is not enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. It is a habit, a norm, that has a long and very troubling history. The great filibusters in American history have been conducted by Southern bigots who have stood in the way of civil rights legislation and other progressive reforms in our long history of white supremacy.

I understand the arguments for retaining the two-vote equality in the Senate, big state and small, vast or scattered population, but the effect of the current system is to paralyze the Congress of the United States, no matter which party is in power. The filibuster should be eliminated first and that new system tried before we amend the Constitution to create a 5-4-3-2-1 Senate system in which California and Texas get five, Florida and New York four, Illinois and Pennsylvania three, etc.

If you believe in democracy you must believe in majority rule. The current president won the popular vote by more than 7 million, and yet the minority party has an effective stranglehold on congressional legislation because of provisions that were devised more than 150 years ago to protect some of the worst practices in American life, including slavery and apartheid.

This reform only SOUNDS radical because we are so used to our traditions. A parliamentary system as in Britain works by majority rule. Then the two parties (or more) have to devise their platforms to attract supporters. The idea that the minority dominate our system (from either party) is directly in conflict with the baseline ideas of democracy.

We cannot afford to continue in paralysis — in immigration policy, in climate policy, in energy policy, in educational policy, in taxation policy, etc. A great nation needs to move forward and address its problems in a rational and democratic way. We have been failing to perform this vital business for several decades now.

The current minority party is the Republicans, but just barely. In four years, it could be the other way around. The party out of power “benefits” from the current structure of the Senate and from the filibuster. But the result is not bipartisan legislation. The result is paralysis.

As a North Dakotan, and a proud one, I am well aware that the Senate reform I am suggesting would seem to make North Dakota less powerful, but that really only works from a narrow parochial perspective, and I’m not quite sure what we actually gain by having equal representation in the Senate.

Let the national majority rule (decently, moderately, thoughtfully).

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