by Joe Wolverton II, for The New American
Recently, the New York Times published on op-ed piece advocating an increase in the size of the House of Representatives. Not the chamber itself, mind you, but the number of representatives serving therein.
The co-authors, Dalton Conley and Jacqueline Stevens, assert that the House has â€œlost touch with the public and been overtaken by special interests.â€
After pointing out that the current number of representatives â€” 435 â€” is set not by Constitutional mandate, but rather by statute, Conley and Stevens rightly present the cold, hard figures that strain the definition of â€œrepresentation.â€
First, perhaps one wonders how we arrived at the magic number of 435 to begin with. It is because oflaws passed by Congress in 1911 and in 1929. At the time of the debate on the bill setting the arbitrary limit on the number of representatives, one clear-thinking congressmen made the following observation:
The bill seeks to prescribe a national policy under which the membership of the House shall never exceed 435 unless Congress, by affirmative action, overturns the formula and abandons the policy enunciated by this bill. I am unalterably opposed to limiting the membership of the House to the arbitrary number of 435. Why 435? Why not 400? Why not 300? Why not 250, 450, 535, or 600? Why is this number 435 sacred? What merit is there in having a membership of 435 that we would not have if the membership were 335 or 535? There is no sanctity in the number 435 â€¦ There is absolutely no reason, philosophy, or common sense in arbitrarily fixing the membership of the House at 435 or at any other number.
The opinion piece agrees:
The result [of the law passed in 1911 that set the number of representatives at 435] is that Americans today are numerically the worst-represented group of citizens in the countryâ€™s history. The average House member speaks for about 700,000 Americans. In contrast, in 1913 he represented roughly 200,000, a ratio that today would mean a House with 1,500 members â€“ or 5,000 if we match the ration the founders awarded themselves.
That ratio â€” the one established by the Constitution â€” is set forth in Article I, Section 2. â€œThe Number of Representative shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousandâ€¦.â€ The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 settled on this number after considering proposals for setting the ratio at one representative per every 40,000 (the original ratio reported out of Committee) and one for every 35,000. Additionally, there was some heated debate over whether the relative wealth of a state, as well as population should be a factor in the equation determining representation in the House.
Upon reading the debates of the Convention in this matter and crunching the numbers, one realizes that the issue most concerning to the Framers was not that the House would be too small, but that it would be too large. James Madison himself expressed such a worry when he wrote in theÂ Federalist Papers, â€œHad every Athenian been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.â€
In the article printed in theÂ Times, the effect of statutorily fiddling with the Constitutionâ€™s math is succinctly stated:
This disparity increases the influence of lobbyists and special interests: the more constituents one has, the easier it is for money to outshine individual voices. And it means that the representatives have a harder time connecting with the people back in their districts.
Well said. There is strong historical support for this theory, as well. Madison similarly expressed the need for constituents to feel connected to their representatives to the national legislature. InÂ Federalist No. 57 he wrote,
The house of representatives . ..can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as the great mass of society. This has always been deemed one of the strongest bonds by which human policy can connect the rulers and the people together. It creates between them that communion of interest, and sympathy of sentiments, of which few governments have furnished examples; but without which every government degenerates into tyranny.
And in anotherÂ Federalist letter:
The members of the legislative department â€¦ are numerous. They are distributed and dwell among the people at large. Their connections of blood, of friendship, and of acquaintance embrace a great proportion of the most influential part of the society…they are more immediately the confidential guardians of their rights and liberties.
For at least a decade, scores of respected journalists, political scientists, and commentators have been calling for a repeal of the Reapportionment Act of 1929 that capped the size of the House at 435. In a November 2001 article printed inÂ The Hill, Matthew Cossolotto muses:
Whatâ€™s going on here? After all, the framers of the Constitution envisioned that the House would grow in size along with the countryâ€™s population. This was supposed to take place every 10 years as a party of the reapportionment process following each decennial census.
Heâ€™s right. James Madison participated in that debate and wrote, â€œI take for grantedâ€¦that the number of representatives will be augmented from time to time in the manner provided by the Constitution.â€
In his â€œCommon Senseâ€Â column, Paul Jacobs made a point that was at once cogent, clever, and condemning:
Are career politicians likely to chop their own personal power to do whatâ€™s best for the country and the institution of Congress? Nope. But they do talk a lot about taking the big money out of politics. Well, if theyâ€™re serious, this is one way to do it without destroying the First Amendment and handing incumbents power to regulate their opponents.
Again, well said. To a man (and woman), nearly every Tea Party-supported Congressmen promised to take America back from special interest while restoring the First Amendmentâ€™s guarantee of free speech, particularly the right to express oneself by providing financial support to candidate in an amount they, and not the Congress or Supreme Court, deem sufficient.
In what is perhaps the most laudable espousal of a breaking of the 435 seal by a pundit,Â George Will put a very fine point on the topic. Praising the notion of how a larger House of Representatives will likely serve as a disincentive to those who seek office for their own aggrandizement.
Critics will say, correctly, that the House chamber cannot seat 1,000 members, that it would be crowded and uncomfortable, that office space would be so severely rationed that staffs would have to be trimmed, so the House, and therefore, Congress, could not do very much. Sensible people would be dry-eyed about such conditions, which would encourage representatives not to tarry here.
The concept of subtraction by addition is a difficult one to comprehend, perhaps. That is to say, no one who flies the flag of the Constitution advocates an increase in the size of government. However, there is a possibility that by removing the 435 ceiling and requiring representatives to reduce staff and take a significant pay cut (so as not to increase by one cent the amount of money spent on Congressional salaries and staff) a lifetime spent on the banks of the Potomac might not be so alluring and the increased turnover rate will be philosophically pleasing to those of a Jeffersonian bent who long for a â€œrevolutionâ€ every couple of decades.
Finally, there is an organization dedicated to increasing awareness of the deracination of representatives from the represented.Â Thirty-thousand.org provides research and commentary on reasons for repeal of the Reapportionment Act of 1929. Primarily, of course, their documents focus on the lack of true representation in a body so detached from the legitimate fount of power.
The diverse views and values of the American people are currently being homogenized within super-sized political districts resulting in the election of politicians rather than Representatives. These elected politicians rarely represent or champion clearly defined principles; instead, many function as career conciliators who can derive greater success by serving the special interest groups than by bravely advancing principles.
In contrast, in a larger House the diverse views and values of the American people will find full expression through their Representatives. The House will return to being a peopleâ€™s House in which the diverse interests and concerns of the American people can be openly championed. Of course, that does not mean that everyoneâ€™s positions will prevail; that can never happen, nor should it. However, you will at least hear one or more Representatives earnestly and unambiguously advocating your view (whatever that is). Perhaps in being heard, it will affect the outcome of the matter under consideration. Or perhaps it will not change the outcome at all but, at least, it will have been clearly articulated. Just as importantly, having been competently advocated in that eminent forum, the views expressed may eventually change the minds of others.
Support for this movement among Constitutionalists is growing. The inertia it is experiencing makes sense as Americans committed to restoring the sovereignty of states should have an affinity for such a cause, as a likely effect of successfully repealing the current cap would be strengthening of the ties that should rightfully bind congressmen to constituents. Decreasing the size of districts makes congressmen more answerable to a smaller number of voters, thus those representatives become more apt to protect the sovereignty of the states from which they are sent as they are taught that it is the liberty of those states from which the federal government they seek to serve derives its powers.
Interested readers should peruseÂ this article from the Daily Paul (a website dedicated to promoting the principles espoused by Congressman Ron Paul), as well as theÂ interview of Mises Institute senior fellow, Dr. Mark Thornton posted on lewrockwell.com.
Apart from his work as a journalist, Joe Wolverton, II is a professor of American Government at Chattanooga State and was a practicing attorney until 2009. He lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Since 2000, Joe has been a featured contributor to The New American magazine. Most recently, he has written a cover story article on the Tea Party movement, as well as a five-part series on the unconstitutionality of Obamacare.
This article originally appeared in The New American magazine – and is republished here with permission of the author.