It’s no secret that many liberals are still having a hard time coping with the results of the 2016 election, showing particularly strong disdain for the fact that President Trump didn’t garner a majority of the popular vote. This same crew has also been on a bit of a tear over the “unfairness” of how members of the Senate are elected and the power that the GOP majority there is able to use to thwart their legislative agenda. Well, never fear, you angry mob! A new savior has arrived with a crackerjack plan to set all of these matters to rights.
Over at Vox (yes… I know), Ian Millhiser covers an unsigned document from the Harvard Law Review laying out what he describes as a modest proposal to save American democracy. Oh, my! Sounds ambitious. So how exactly would we accomplish this daunting task? Simple. Create as many as 127 new states and then call a Constitutional Convention to rewrite the rules so they work better for Democrats.
American democracy is broken.
We have a president who lost the popular vote, a Senate where the “majority” represents about 15 million fewer people than the “minority,” and a Supreme Court where two justices were nominated by that president and confirmed by that unrepresentative Senate.
An unsigned note, entitled “Pack the Union: A Proposal to Admit New States for the Purpose of Amending the Constitution to Ensure Equal Representation” and published in the Harvard Law Review, offers an entirely constitutional way out of this dilemma: Add new states — a lot of new states — then use this bloc of states to rewrite the Constitution so that the United States has an election system “where every vote counts equally.”
It’s not difficult to imagine why the cowardly author of this crock of nonsense didn’t sign their work. It’s a pretty embarrassing mess. But since somebody took the time to write it, I suppose we should look at the details.
As most of you likely know if you stayed awake in high school, you can’t just carve out new states from existing states in a willy-nilly fashion. But we do have one chunk of land that isn’t part of any state and it’s where you find the White House and Congress. So the author’s simple plan is to have Congress pass legislation shrinking the size of the District of Columbia to encompass only a few key federal buildings. Then Congress, with simple majority votes, would admit each of the rest of the District’s 127 neighborhoods as states.
As shocking as it may sound, this is probably technically legal under the laws of our land. It’s also completely insane.
But before going further, let’s revisit what the original complaint was as compared to the proposed solution. Millhiser begins by carping about the fact that the Senate GOP majority represents a group of states with a total population that’s lower than the total population of the states held by Democrats. So that’s “unfair,” right?
Now let’s look at the Harvard author’s “solution.” You would create 127 new states carved out of an area that votes overwhelmingly with the Democrats during every election. The current population of Washington, D.C. is roughly 633,400. If you divide that into 127 new states you would create seats for 254 new Senators, each pair of which would represent about 4,990 people. You would also generate 127 new members of the House representing the same tiny sliver of voters. Currently, the smallest congressional district in the country by population is probably Rhode Island’s 1st District and they had 526,283 people after the 2010 census.
So you’re going to fix the problem of disproportionate representation by creating massively more disproportionate districts with the same vote as everyone else, but having literally one hundred times fewer people being represented. How does something this incredibly assinine manage to get published in the Harvard Law Review?
Leaving aside this insanity, I will agree that we probably need a better way to balance the population spread of the districts to be more homogenous if that’s possible. There is an inherent issue with having one district like Rhode Island’s First having one member representing them while Montana’s single, at-large congressional member represents more than 900,000 citizens. That means that the votes of people in Montana carry barely half of the same impact as those in Rhode Island.
Of course, the population of the various states shifts on a regular basis and it doesn’t always do so homogeneously. That means that the “equality” of representation from district to district begins shifting again as soon as the new lines are drawn every ten years. But yes, it does seem as though we could do better.