Guest Saturday with A Conservative Teacher

The following article was originally published by A.C.T. at A Conservative Teacher on January 3, 2011.

Increase the Number of Representatives in the House? An Argument in Favor.

When our Founding Fathers designed the two house of Congress, the branch that was supposed to be closest to the people and the most powerful in our system, they designed one house to be filled with elite men and women of reason who looked long-term and focused on issues of national importance- the Senate. And the other house that our Founding Fathers designed was to be filled with the common men and women of passion who looked to short-term interests of their constituents and fought to make sure that their district’s views were represented at the national level- the House of Representatives. These common men who filled the House were your neighbor, your local shopkeeper, the guy or girl down the street- people who you knew and people who knew you. They were not Senators, who argued about major issues of the day, which is indeed an important thing to argue about, but they were Representatives, who argued about the smaller issues of the day, which also are important things to argue about, because if you don’t look after the smaller and personal interests of a district, the larger national stuff just isn’t going to be solved either. It was a bicameral system that embraced the best of everything, and like most of the great systems that our Founding Fathers designed and built, over the years we’ve messed it up and perhaps ruined it.

In my post 1930’s Are Root of All That is Wrong I wrote that “At one time, I thought the 1930’s were at the root of all that is wrong about America, and compiled a list of all of the laws and taxes and liberal decisions passed during that time.” That post contained a list of all of those bad laws that came out of that time of fascism and communism and war and depression and collapsing social values. But one law that I left off that list was the Reapportionment Act of 1929, which established a permanent method for apportioning a now constant 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives according to each census, essentially capping the number of Representatives at 435.

So ever since 1911 (which was when the number 435 was first reached), rather than the House expanding in numbers to represent the interests of an expanding population, the number of Representatives remains at 435. Each year as the population of our nation grows, your Representative represents you a little bit less.

One way of thinking like it is this- in 1911, the population was 92 million and there were 435 Representatives, so a citizen had 1/211494th claim on a Representative- not a large claim to be sure, but at least the Representative was someone you might know, someone down the street from you, someone who had a business that you might have visited, someone who married your second cousin’s sister or something. This person cared about your interests, cared about your district, and represented your concerns in Congress- they voted for issues that you wanted them to believe in because they were out of your neighborhood or area and so shared your interests, views, background, and values.

Today, our nation has a population of 308 million, and yet we still only have 435 Representatives in the United States House. Now, each citizen has a 1/708045th claim on a Representative- a claim so small that your Representative today is likely to not be someone that you know, not be someone that your aunt or sister or cousin knows, not be someone whose business you have frequented, and not be someone who represents you. Now, the districts are so large for Representatives that many different neighborhoods and areas are in them, areas that have differing views, interests, backgrounds, and values, and Representatives pander and play games to different groups within the district to get elected, rather than represent the views and interests within a more homogeneous area. This leads to many not be represented at all in our political system, their views and values and beliefs being drowned out by others, and to them having less stake in our political system, meaning that our elected officials have less just power to rule over us and less legitimacy in speaking for us. The system breaks down and tyranny increases.

Jeff Jacoby writing in the Boston Globe recently put it this way:

For most of American history, the size of the House was adjusted upward every 10 years. The initial 65-member House prescribed in the Constitution was expanded to 105 members after the 1790 Census, to 142 members after the 1800 Census, and so on through the 19th century. Following the 13th census, in 1910, Congress enlarged the House to 435 members — and there it has remained, even as the number of Americans has more than tripled, from 92 million to 308 million. Ever since, the apportionment process has been able to allot new House seats to the fastest-growing states only by taking them away from states growing more slowly. One result is that many states have more voters, but fewer US representatives.

The larger districts grow, the less representative lawmakers become. Since 1910, the average number of constituents per House member has climbed from 210,000 to more than 710,000. Over the same span, members of Congress have grown more remote, more undefeatable, more beholden to special interests, and less capable of reflecting the diversity of their districts’ values and views. Smaller, more numerous districts, would be far more democratic, more accessible to new blood and new ideas, and more difficult to gerrymander.

Congress worked better when the size of the House was elastic. The Framers reckoned congressional districts should contain about 30,000 constituents; districts comprising nearly three-quarters of a million would have struck them as ludicrous.

A 435-member House was fine for 1910. It’s time we traded up to something bigger.

This idea also occurred to Matthew Cossolotto, writing in the Hill back in 2001. Then he wrote:

Through some legislative sleight-of-hand following the 1920 census, the House decided, contrary to established practice, not to increase its size. The House did by statute what should arguably require a constitutional amendment — capping its membership at 435.

As a result, after every decennial census we go through an agonizing process of zero-sum reapportionment. Based on the latest census data, we determine which states will lose and which states will gain seats in the artificially capped 435-member House.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of a zero-sum game pitting state against state, reapportionment could be a much fairer, win-win process if the House would only lift its self-imposed, cartel-like ceiling on the supply of representation in America. Call it “supply-side” representation…

…The House prides itself on being “the People’s House.” But the reality is a far cry from that ideal. The country has effectively outgrown our old 435-member House. It’s like a starter home for a young couple. Once the kids arrive, it’s time to get a bigger house. In the past 90 years the American family has added lots and lots of kids. So it’s time to enlarge the House to give our growing and diverse population greater access to the representation they deserve — the level of representation envisioned in the Constitution.

If the House of Representatives refuses to raise its OPEC-style, self-imposed and self-serving ceiling of 435 members, the representation-starved American people should raise the roof!

Congress needs to grow again and once more represent the people our nation- write your Congressman or Congresswomen today and ask that they reconsider the failed old policies of the recent past and return the successful new policies of our Founding Fathers. Ask that they consider increasing again the size of the House of Representatives.

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5 thoughts on “Guest Saturday with A Conservative Teacher

  1. expansion of government? even more lefttists that don’t represent us? It is the areas where illegal aliens and their offspring reside is where the population is exploding. It is they that would benefit from more representatives. I would have to say no way, no how on this one.

    1. rjjrdq, I’m glad you made this comment because I made a similar comment on the original post. It is the high population centers that would gain seats and, as you say, that is where we find many of the under educated immigrants and welfare dependents. And, as you point out, that would not be good for the conservative cause. However, after I left my comment on ACT’s original post, I was not feeling very good about myself because logically and morally Act’s argument is correct. It would seem that the unintended consequences of fixing the number of Representatives at 435 has been to gerrymandered the representation heavily in favor of the less populated areas of the country. If the tables were turned and the more populated areas were also the more conservative areas of the country, I would be outraged by our lack of representation. Am I wrong to feel this moral dilemma? I would dearly love to hear an argument that would convince me that leaving the number of Representatives at 435 is morally correct.

      1. I think if we are a principled and intellectually honest group of people (which i feel conservatives are) then we must ignore the fact that this would help the liberals. The reasoning behind the original law makes much sense, that of representatives being closer to the people. I personally like that, and in my opinion, making our “rulers” more intimate with their flock can only be a good thing.

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