Wednesday, March 2, 2016

ARTICLE THE FIRST

Not many people know it, but the Bill of Rights were not, as so often said, the first ten amendments proposed after ratification of the Constitution.

True, they were the first ten amendments adopted by our country. But there were in fact two other amendments proposed by the first Congress. The Bill of Rights were actually the third through the twelfth. Numbers one and two were not ratified.

Those two proposals are interesting. The second one prohibited members of Congress from giving themselves salary increases with immediate effect. Salary increases for Congress would have to wait until after the next election to become effective, giving the voters a chance to veto undeserved increases.

             That proposal sat in the bowels of the Library of Congress from 1789 to 1982 when it was discovered by a Texas college student named Gregory Watson. He re-ignited it and in 1992, it became the 27th Amendment.

The final inchoate 1789 amendment was known as Article the First. It had to do with proportional representation in the House of Representatives. Here is what it said:

            After the first enumeration, required by the first Article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor MORE than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.

The word “more” was not capitalized. As written, it obviously creates a problem. When the population would reach 8 million, the minimum size of the House would be two hundred, but the maximum size of the House would be 160. Quite impossible.

             Obviously, Article the First was fatally flawed, explaining why it was never adopted. Still, the Founders described a pattern of increasing the minimum size of the House of Representatives in increments of one hundred, and increasing the ratio of constituents to representatives in increments of ten thousand.

             The scheme was very simple. The size of the house was to be based on the population as determined by the decennial census. Whenever, using the current ratio, the size of the House grew by more than 99, the ratio of constituents to Representatives is increased by ten thousand.

             If that formula were to be written into our constitution, each member of Congress, today, would represent 230,000 people, and the House would have 1,338 members.

             It makes sense to have a constitutional formula for representation in the House. If the definition of representative government is left to the political process, the result will be precisely what has happened to our country: those in power will make rules that embed and extend their power.

             Which is why the U.S. House of Representatives has been frozen at 435 members for more than 100 years. Each member now represents over  700,000 people. That makes campaigns expensive and requires continuous fund raising.

             Left to their own devices, members of Congress naturally enshrine the status quo. To them the idea of a representative body two or three times the size of the current House is simply unthinkable, unimaginable.

             But should it be? Surely there is no logical or scientific rationale that supports a 435 seat House. There is nothing more preposterous than the idea that the amount of representation to which the people of the the United States are entitled must be limited by the size of the room or the number of seats and desks it contains.

             This is the twenty first century, for heaven’s sake. We have computers, telephones, television, iPads, iPhones, Facebooks, Youtubes and Twitter. A twenty first century legislature should have the benefit of the latest technology. Science should serve democracy. And the beauty of it all is that by enlisting the most modern forms of communication, we can reestablish the two hundred year old dream of a republican government that really represents the people.


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