As we began the unit on the Legislative Branch, “Mark” asked why California ranks in the bottom of receiving federal funding when we are the most populated state and the 5th LARGEST economy in the world. “Julie” blurted out the Great Compromise, of course. I said “Julie is right, remember class, unlike today, politics was the art of compromise.”
The Great Compromise was the first of the three major compromises to take shape in 1787. The Framers created a bicameral legislature. The House would be based on the population of each state, with more populated states given more representatives (the Virginia Plan). The Senate would be equally apportioned with each state having two senators regardless of the state’s population (the New Jersey Plan). Such a feature is not procedurally democratic because equal representation in the Senate equals unequal representation of citizens. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the most populated state, California, has a population of 37,253,956 people while the least populated state, Wyoming, has a population of 563,626 people. Thus, California has 66 times larger population than Wyoming. However, each state has the same number of senators, two. Does this formula of inequality truly matter? Is this feature of the U.S. Senate undemocratic?
Clearly, the answer is YES because the equal representation clause found in Article I, section 3 of the U.S. Senate violates the basic principle of political equality among citizens. As stated by celebrated political scientist Robert A. Dahl “the moral judgment that we ought to regard the good of every human being as intrinsically equal to that of another, and therefore in arriving at its decisions the government must give equal consideration to the good and interests of each person.” Each American citizen ought to participate in the political process as equals in regards to the process of governing. Such is not the case with the equal representation clause in the U.S. Senate. Americans who live in states with smaller populations like Wyoming and North Dakota have at least four political advantages than Americans who live in states with larger populations like California and Texas.
The vote of a citizen in a small state counts for more in the make-up of the Senate than the vote of a citizen in a larger state. A citizen in North Dakota with a population of 672,591 people has 37 times a greater vote and, therefore voice, than a citizen living in Texas with a population of 25,145,561. Yet, both states elect the same number of senators. This political inequality if further exaggerated because citizens in smaller populated states gain easier access to their senators; a citizen in Wyoming has a much better chance of accessing their senator than a citizen living in California. In addition, senators and their staff from smaller populated states have more time to devote to constituent services and senators from smaller states are more likely to be in leadership roles in the Senate.
Such was the case in the leadership of the 112th U.S. Senate as the Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV), and Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who represent states with a population of approximately 6.9 million people combined, almost 6 times less than population of California alone (2010 U.S. Census). Such leaders are able to send money and pork projects easier to their states than other senators. Similarly, federal expenditures clearly favor citizens in small states. For example, Wyoming’s annual federal expenditures are a share of roughly $209 per capita compared to California’s share of $132. Likewise, grazing rights, mineral rights, and farming rights, for example, clearly benefit smaller states than larger states. In fact, the top five states that have received federal aid in 2010 were Alaska, Wyoming, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Vermont with a combined population of 5,068,000 people or .016 percent of the nation’s population, almost seven and a half smaller than the population of California alone. As Dahl’s eloquently states, “on what general principle is a citizen living in Wyoming entitled to half again as much in federal funds as a citizen in similar circumstances who is living in California?” Such is the case in the political inequality of the U.S. Senate, constitutionally ordained by Article I, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which again states, “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.”
As we diagnosed the undemocratic problem, Mark asked: “what could be done about this?” As the bell rang, I said “let’s find out tomorrow in class.” In my next Civics 101 article I will address how can will remedy the undemocratic element of the U.S. Senate.
Dominic Caserta, a teacher at Santa Clara High school and Santa Clara Council Member, is running for the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in District 4, which includes Santa Clara. He wrote this article for the Santa Clara Weekly.