As we head toward the 2022 elections, it is a safe bet that few Americans can identify the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, even though it’s one of the most significant amendments. Ratified on April 8, 1913, it completely changed the balance of power in our federal system.The amendment provided for the direct popular election of U.S. senators. That sounds non-controversial now, but it meant taking the power away from state legislatures that were originally given the authority to choose the senators representing their state in Section 3 of Article I of the Constitution.
The1 Constitution reserves to the States the primary authority to set election legislation and administer elections—the “times, places, and manner of holding of elections”—and Congress’ power in this space is purely secondary to the States’ power. Congress’ power is to be employed only in the direst of circumstances.2 Despite Democrats’ insistence that Congress’ power over elections is unfettered and permits Congress to enact sweeping legislation like H.R. 1, it is simply not true. History, precedent, the Framers’ words, debates concerning ratification, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution itself make this exceedingly clear.