Welcome back to Professor Morrill’s classroom. This is part two of a two-part series in which I have the audacity to rank all 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, from best to worst.
Ranking the Constitutional Amendments – Part I
This week, we finish up with the rest of the “meh” and have our grand finale: the worst amendments.
The “meh” (continued)
27th Amendment: Delays laws affecting Congressional salary from taking effect until after the next election of representatives
This well-meaning amendment was actually one of the first 12 ever proposed, along the same time as the Bill of Rights and the Congressional Apportionment Amendment (see more below.) It took a staggering 203 years to ratify this bad boy.
The idea is that Congress can’t give itself a pay raise. At least not right away. I think it’s mostly window dressing. 96% of incumbent Congresscritters were re-elected in the last cycle. So it’s no big sweat to wait until the next term to collect the pay increase you just voted for; I mean, you’re definitely going to be there. Unless maybe you die. (We should be so lucky.)
23rd Amendment: Grants the District of Columbia electors in the Electoral College
This was also well-meaning, but it dodged the whole D.C. statehood question. Not to mention it gave the Democrats a very easy three electoral votes each cycle. The highest a Republican presidential candidate has ever polled in D.C. was Nixon in 1972…with a paltry 21.56%. (An election in which he won forty-nine states.)
If we’re going to go this route, I’d rather just see D.C. merged back into Maryland. Statehood seems like a bit of a stretch, and there are Constitutional questions about that anyway.
3rd Amendment: Restricts the quartering of soldiers in private homes
This particular amendment is clearly a very specific reaction to British acts during the Revolutionary War and hasn’t seen much action since. It did briefly get some attention during last summer’s unrest in the capital city, which seems like a million years ago, now.
11th Amendment: Makes states immune from suits from out-of-state citizens and foreigners not living within the state borders; lays the foundation for state sovereign immunity
This amendment is a bit esoteric and somewhat hard to understand. Even though I will confess to not completely grasping the concept, I will say that I am in favor of states getting their asses sued off pretty much all the time. So I guess I’m against it in principle.
The worst (cover your ears, darlin‘):
17th Amendment: Establishes the direct election of United States senators by popular vote
It should surprise no one that the three worst amendments were all ratified during the “progressive” era. This stinker took the election of U.S. Senators away from the various state legislatures and turned it over to the infinite wisdom of the great unwashed masses.
The beauty of having state legislatures elect U.S. Senators was that it guaranteed the senators would have a particular interest in the rights of the various state houses that had sent them there. By switching to direct election, the U.S. Senate simply becomes another popularity contest, or another step in the ladder to higher office. Basically, the Senate now is just the House of Representatives-Plus—minus that whole pesky popular apportionment thing.
If election to the U.S. Senate by the state house was good enough for my distant cousin Justin, it should be good enough for everyone.
18th Amendment: Prohibited the manufacturing or sale of alcohol within the United States
Prohibition went over so badly that the mere mention of the word conjures up images of crime, violence, gangsters, and poisonings.
I’ll never understand how this amendment ever got ratified in the first place. Even states with economies heavily dependent on alcohol production (Missouri, California, and Wisconsin) ratified this turd, thus cutting their own economic throats. Only two states out of the 48 at the time refused to go along.
Another thing that blows my mind: at the time, it was considered a “progressive” amendment. Yet, it was also popular with conservative religious elements (except perhaps Catholics, for obvious reasons). Anytime the far left and the far right enthusiastically agree on something, you better run for the hills.
The best thing I can say about this abomination is that at least the proponents went the constitutional route as opposed to trying to push it through by statute. But you can have 46 states agree on something and still be wrong.
We learned our lesson and repealed this very bad amendment 14 years later.
Did we really learn our lesson, though? All sorts of other fun victimless things remain illegal, and we are still paying the price in terms of crime and dangerous black market products.
16th Amendment: Permits Congress to levy an income tax without apportioning it among the various states or basing it on the United States Census
Congratulations, you have now reached the absolute bottom of the barrel. The federal income tax.
After ratification of this unholy terror, the first income tax imposed was aimed at high income earners and topped out at seven percent. Only three percent of Americans even paid the tax at the time. Isn’t that quaint?
Slippery slopes are a real thing, however. The harmless little income tax decided that it was hungry, and quickly grew and demanded more and more to eat, topping out at an astonishing 91% top tax rate towards the tail end of World War II. Fast forward to today and it’s been moderated somewhat, with a top tax rate of 37%. Which is still 37% too high.
Also during the war, income tax withholding was introduced, so the average Joe doesn’t even realize how much money is being stolen from him.
Again, I am astonished that this amendment was even ratified in the first place. Only six states of the 48 at the time declined to go along. God bless Connecticut, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, Florida, and Pennsylvania.
At least nobody’s making noise about a wealth tax. Well shit, never mind.
Bonus: other amendments I’d like to see
The average Congressman serves for nine years and the average Senator for eleven. (Honestly, both of those numbers sound rather low to me.) Our Founding Fathers didn’t likely intend to make Congressional service a lifetime position. We can fix that.
Many states have adopted term limits for state offices; if it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander.
Many states also operate under balanced budget amendments. Uncle Sam famously does not. We can fix that, too. Keynesian heads would explode, but that’s not really a bad thing.
This idea, along with the two immediately listed above, was popular in the early and mid-1990s when Newt Gingrich and his Republican “revolution” swept into Congress. None of them got anywhere, but all of them would be steps in the right direction toward a more responsible government.
Congressional Apportionment Amendment
People sometimes think that the amendments included in the Bill of Rights are numbered by their perceived importance. Sorry kids, not true. This was the original First Amendment, aimed at setting the size of the House of Representatives at one representative for every fifty thousand citizens. (For comparison, currently every Congressman represents about 720,000 people.)
Under this amendment, we would have a truly enormous House of Representatives, about six thousand Congressmen in total. Cape Girardeau County would basically have its own Congressman (and then some), which is pretty cool. Or pretty scary, if you know Cape County.
Six thousand sounds rather unwieldy and conjures up images of the Galactic Senate in the Star Wars prequels. (That’s a whole lot of Jar Jars.) However, when you consider that the average NBA arena capacity is just shy of 19,000, it’s completely doable. It’s about three times the size of the world’s current largest legislature, but if any country could justify it, it would be ours.
On the other hand, gerrymandering of current Congressional districts and the proliferation of “safe seats” has led to a number of members who are very extreme in their views. Imagine how extreme they could get if their districts were even smaller, safer, and even more gerrymandered.
Repeal (or at least limit) the federal income tax
“But where would the government get the money to fund their programs?” I don’t give a shit. Hold a bake sale. A national sales tax, maybe. Just slay the beast and we’ll figure the rest out later.
“No direct payments”
This one’s a bit out there, but I would like to see a ban on the government directly writing checks to individual persons. For anything. Ever.
Such a far-fetched amendment would leave open some public services that are truly public: parks, roads, etc. And you could even still sneak in universal health care under this kind of arrangement, if the services were being provided by public clinics and no money was changing hands between the government and the beneficiary.
Think about it.
No laws against “victimless crimes“
Think: anti-Prohibition. Legalize every activity that doesn’t hurt others or involves only consenting adults. Most libertarians would be totally on board with this one.
I’d like to revive this and pass it just to watch liberals squirm. Almost fifty years ago, the progressive position was that equal rights “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Now there’s considerable debate whether sex or gender is even a real thing.
Replace the Constitution with The Ferengi Rules of Acquisition
I think a lot of ancaps and Trekkies (and ancap Trekkies) could really get behind this idea.
If I was promoted to God Emperor of North America tomorrow, I might be tempted to simply scrap the Constitution altogether and return to the Articles of Confederation, plus the amendments listed as “the best” earlier in this piece (if they fit within the framework of the Articles, anyway.)
“But God Emperor Christopher, First of His Name, King of the Andals and the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm! That government is too weak to actually get anything done!”
That’s the plan, baby.