ALEC considering law to weaken 17th Amendment

The right-wing non-profit is mulling supporting the "Equal State's Enfranchisement Act"

Topics: ALEC, 17th Amendment, The Huffington Post, constitution, Senate, U.S. Senate, elections,

ALEC considering law to weaken 17th Amendment (Credit: Shutterstock larry1235)

According to a report in the Huffington Post, the right-wing non-profit organization ALEC is considering supporting a bill that would significantly encroach upon the principle of direct elections of U.S. senators that was established by the 17th Amendment.

Called the “Equal State’s Enfranchisement Act,” the bill would allow a plurality of members of a state legislature to nominate a candidate to appear on the ballot. The candidate would be listed along with those of the two major parties, chosen via convention or primary processes. The 17th Amendment, passed in 1913, changed the rules for electing senators to allow for direct elections rather than having state legislatures choose.

“It’s an attempt to blunt the effects of the 17th Amendment by reinserting the state legislature and their views back into the process of electing U.S. senators,” UC-Davis School of Law Professor Vikram Amar said to the Huffington Post. ”By itself, it’s not a full-fledged repeal or circumvention of the 17th Amendment,” he continued. “But it’s kind of an encroachment of the vision of the 17th Amendment.”

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George Mason University Associate Professor of Law David Schleicher argues that repealing the 17th Amendment may not have the effect that advocates believe.

“People who support 17th Amendment repeal or anything like it misunderstand what the 17th Amendment did and why it passed. … [It] was the desire to allow state elections to be about state issues and not to be about national issues,” he said.

In other words, important state policy issues like transportation and jobs could get pushed aside because voters would focus instead on choosing state legislators who support their preferred candidate for the U.S. Senate.

“If people were voting in a legislative election and the state legislature would choose the senator, the senator would be the only important [issue],” said Schleicher. “People would just vote for the senator.”

Amar believes that such legislation could also prove unconstitutional. State legislatures are allowed to regulate the procedures by which elections are held, but they are not supposed to be involved more substantively, which, he argues, the draft ALEC legislation would cause them to be.

Elias Isquith
Elias Isquith is a staff writer at Salon, focusing on politics. Follow him on Twitter at @eliasisquith.

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