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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A really inconvenient truth! - Part Two

Authoritarianism by the Numbers: A really inconvenient truth!

D. Frank Robinson

Copyright 2007

Part Two

In the early 20th century rural Congressmen in southern states became jealous of losing power to urban northern states. The newly arrived immigrants were settling in the Northern urban areas and many Southerners, both black and white, were also emigrating north and west. Unable to build a “Berlin Wall” around the South, they simply blocked apportionment and stopped enlarging the size of the House. In fact, after the Census of 1920 the Congress refused to reapportion themselves at all! The provisions of the Constitution became their “inconvenient truth.” And they got away with it. And all of their successors of both traditional parties have gotten away with it again and again and again. They did not simply refuse to reapportion. They refused to reapportion with a larger House of Representatives Just another of America's dirty little open political secrets – just look at the numbers. It is indeed an inconvenient truth for them and an oppressive truth for all of us.

The language of this original amendment indicates an intent to assure the people that the size of the House of Representatives would increase from one Representative per 30,000 population up one Representative per 40,000, then to one Representative per fifty thousand population thereafter and the size of the House could never be reduced below two hundred members. But the text of the amendment as it stands, if ratified today as the 28th , would merely allow, but not require, the U.S. House of Representatives be expanded so that it is composed of as many as one Representative per fifty thousand population maximum and two hundred Representatives minimum. It would change nothing in the composition of a House of 435 member with constituency-districts over 650,000.

The present size of the U.S. House has been fixed at 435 since 1910. The population has tripled since the 1910 Census. The average population of a House district after the 2000 Census is about 650,000 – thirteen fold the size prescribed in the pending amendment. Even a return to the proportionality of 1910 would be a significant liberalization of representation; there would be at least 1305 Representatives. This is not a literal violation of the amendment. But it does raise the question: What was the point of the amendment anyway? Was it just to raise the minimum ratio of population for representation from 1:30,000 to 1:50,000? Was there a widespread fear that representatives faced a scarcity of constituents? Were Madison and his contemporaries in Congress silly, incompetent or devious?

Occasionally, a few pundits have suggested that enlarging the U.S. House of Representatives should be seriously considered. Almost no one in the hired media has had anything to say about democratizing the House, no documentaries on PBS, nor have the public policy think tanks, nor academia, nor 'citizen advocacy' groups taken up the challenge. A century has passed with scarcely a peep from the political elites.

To be continued...

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