Gene Healy makes a strong case for ending the direct election of US Senators:
“Let the state legislatures appoint the Senate,” Virginia’s George Mason urged at the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, lest a newly empowered federal government “swallow up the state legislatures.” The motion carried unanimously after Mason’s remarks.
So it’s probably fitting that it’s a George Mason University law professor, Todd Zywicki, who has done the best work on the 17th Amendment’s pernicious effects.
Zywicki shows that selection by state legislatures was a key pillar of the Constitution’s architecture, ensuring that the Senate would be a bulwark for decentralized government. It’s “inconceivable,” Zywicki writes, “that a Senator during the pre-17th Amendment era would vote for an ‘unfunded federal mandate.’ “
In the grade-school morality tale offered by Egan and others, noble Progressives pushed the amendment as an antidote to corruption. Yet Zywicki found “no indication that the shift to direct election did anything to eliminate or even reduce corruption in Senate elections.”
Indeed, “the increased power of special interests was the purpose of the 17th Amendment,” Zywicki writes. “It allowed them to lobby senators directly, cutting out the middleman of the state legislatures.”
Maybe that’s why corporations and urban political machines — Progressives’ supposed enemies — supported the amendment.
Of course it will never, ever happen. Those special interests are stronger today than when the 17th Amendment was passed.