An interesting conversation took place while standing in line for “Terminator”, the newest roller coaster at Magic Mountain. We were visiting the park on home school day and enjoying the conversation and friendship with a fellow home schooling family, when Scott Scharpen began to share his passion for our Nation and her Constitution.

“I was preparing to give my kids a brief over view of the Constitution, when in my preparation ran across this profound observation.” Mr. Scharpen said. “When I compared the composition of the House of Representatives in the Constitution with what we have today, I saw a big disconnect. Specifically, the Constitution says that ‘the number of representatives shall not exceed one for every 30,000,’ yet today we only have 435 reps, which equates to one rep for every 700,000 people. So I then asked the dangerous ‘Why?’ question.”

The result of this lesson in the Constitution is significant as a lawsuit against the federal government was filed on September 17, 2009 to rectify the unconstitutionality of disproportionate representation in the House of Representatives as per the Constitution and Federalist Papers 55 and 56 “which explicitly promised, without qualification, that there would be one Representative for every thirty-thousand inhabitants.”

The current average district size in comparison to that of the first Congresses is substantially disproportionate. According to Apportionment.US:

The average district size has increased substantially since the first census of 1790.

1790 – 1 for every ~ 33,000

1910 – 1 for every ~ 210,000

2000 – 1 for every ~ 647,000

2010 – 1 for every ~ 700,000 (projected)

Over the next few weeks, I will be exploring this subject and keeping the readers abreast of the lawsuit. As Scott has said, this will “bring about perhaps the most significant change in the federal government structure in nearly a century.” One can imagine, a change this substantial will be strongly challenged by the powers that be, however what the Founders penned in the Constitution can not be ignored.

In 1920 Congress, after one hundred thirty years of growth in the House of Representatives, a stalemate ensued over re-apportionment and Congress froze the number of the House to 435 members. This legislation is unconstitutional as it changed the Constitution without using the amendment process. The Reapportionment Act of 1929 is the reason that we now have 435 members in Congress and that states like Montana are grossly under represented. According to Approtionment.US

The inequality today is severe and unjust. The primary measure that the Supreme Court has used to determine voter equality is to compare the largest and smallest districts. According to the 2000 census, Montana was the most under-represented and Wyoming was the most over-represented. In simple terms, it took 1.83 Montana voters to equal just 1 Wyoming voter, which is grossly unfair. Using the math calculation as applied in the 1983 Supreme Court case Karcher v. Daggett, the collective deviation of the largest and smallest districts from the “ideal” district size was 63.38%. Interestingly, the Court declared as unconstitutional a deviation of 0.6984% in Karcher, which is over 90 times smaller than the current deviation!

One day after filing the case, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Edith H. Jones, approved the request on Friday September 18th, 2009. If the plaintiffs prevail, the case will be moved to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Most are not aware of the under representation, though they most certainly feel it during election years, or in times such as these, when their representative turns a deaf ear to the voice of the constituent. The time is ripe for change as the American people have seen first hand what too much power does in the hands of 435. The Constitutional standard of “one person one vote” has not been practiced at the Federal level for well over a century and it is time to give the power back to the people through equal representation.

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  1. Great post Mary, I am shocked this hasn’t been challenged sooner.

    I just wonder about the budget impact… I know we can scrap the health care bill in order to fund this, also Representatives won’t need as much staff.

    1. @Shane Vander Hart,
      Obviously this is an important issue and is partially addressed at the link:
      How much money is this going to cost the American taxpayer? A: House representatives and their staff currently account for a small fraction of 1% of the total Federal budget, so any increased costs will be comparatively small. Also, given the fact that each representative has 22 approved staff allocated to them (which is a large number!), it’s very possible that the number of Federal employees (both reps and staffers) can remain nearly the same, but instead redistribute the employees to include more elected (and accountable) officials. The goal is to reduce the staff and increase the representation, allowing the representatives to be closer to the people they represent. Furthermore, pork-barrel spending will almost certainly decrease with a larger House, because it will be much more difficult to justify favoring one particular district over others, and this monetary savings alone will pay for any increased staff many times over.

      1. @Mary Selby, I think you might end up with a significant result of the “law of unintended consequences” here.
        I don’t think Montana is likely to gain too many votes, but FL, CA and AZ certainly would provide a VAST influx of minority opinion to the House.
        Don’t get me wrong: I agree with you whole-heartedly (@Shane, take a deep breath.); and I thank you for bringing this to my attention. Just saying this might not work out for conservatives as well as you might imagine.
        My fantasy would be to see this rectified along with –part & parcel– term limits for Congress, just like the President.

      2. @Adam,

        Short-term, probably bite us; long term… well, it will bring more direct control of your reps.

        And the more direct the control, the less they can buy their places by aiming for large population centers. As someone who’s been a country kid for ages, this sounds very good.
        .-= Foxfier´s last blog ..Modern Marvels! =-.

      3. @Mary Selby, Good points. I really wasn’t too concerned by the cost because I figured staff would be reduced.

        Now… where would they all be housed? Would they meet in D.C. less and stay in their home districts more?

        The logistics would be interesting.

  2. I agree that the House districts have become too large.

    However, I don’t think there is anything magical about 30,000 people. The founders couldn’t have imagined the modern communication age, and extremely large legislative bodies (including several thousand members) are problematic in different ways.

    Also, Montana shouldn’t complain too much, as the Senate gives it power way out of proportion to its population. The founders created the Senate that way, but the difference in population size between the largest and smallest states was a fraction then of what it is today. 50 percent of the Senate now represents about 17 or 18 percent of the population of the U.S.
    .-= desmoinesdem´s last blog ..Environment Iowa Applauds State’s Congressional Champs =-.

      1. @Shane Vander Hart,

        Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution requires that:

        * the House Representatives be apportioned among the several States according to their respective populations;

        * the number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every 30,000 persons;

        * each State shall have at least one Representative; and,

        * the reapportionment shall occur once every 10 years as a result of the decennial census.

        You are correct that it is not a magical number, but a Constitutional number so that WE THE PEOPLE would be adequately represented. There was a well thought out reason in the minds of the Framers for 30,000.

        President Washington’s veto message read as follows:
        “Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:
        “I have maturely considered the act passed by the two Houses entitled ‘An act for an Apportionment of Representatives among the several States, according to the first Enumeration;’ and I return it to your House, wherein it originated, with the following objections:

        “First. The Constitution has prescribed that Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers; and there is no one proportion or divisor which, applied to the respective numbers of the States, will yield the number and allotment of Representatives proposed by the bill.

        “Second. The Constitution has also provided that the number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand; which restriction is, by the context, and by fair and obvious construction, to be applied to the separate and respective numbers of the States; and the bill has allotted to eight of the States more than one for every thirty thousand.”
        “G. Washington”

        Interesting stuff huh?

      2. @Mary Selby,

        You seem to be approaching this issue backwards. The “One for every 30,000” is a CAP, not a minimum. That means that there can be one for every 30,000, one for every 100,000, one for every 500,000, even one for every 1,000,000, which I agree would be a ridiculously bad idea. Congress did not violate the constitution by capping the number at 435. They could have capped it at 400, or 500, or 300, or 1000, if they wanted. All of that would be legal under the constitution. The only thing they couldn’t do under the constitution would be to have any more than 10274 seats, which is one for every 30,000 people.

        The George Washington veto you referred to would be a bill where they tried to give states one representative for every 25,000 people, or one for every 20,000. That would be unconstitutional.

        Also, maybe this lawsuit is specific to the House. However, if you take the reasoning of the lawsuit to its logical conclusion, it is inescapable that the Constitution should be amended to abolish the Senate. Or at least do one of two things:

        1. Split states like California, Texas, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan into about 5-10 pieces each, or

        2. Go back to having Senators elected by state legislatures. However, because of the level of sophistication in gerrymandering that never would have been foreseen by the founders, this would also require

        2A. Have proportional representation in state legislatures instead of single member districts.

      3. @Mary Selby,

        Come to think of it, the thing I said about chopping up California (and other big states) into 5-10 pieces? That might be a good idea anyway. I’ve often thought that one of the reasons that California is such a mess is that it’s just too darn big. Los Angeles County, Orange County, San Diego County, etc, should each be their own states. Plus, that way all the Republicans from Orange County and the Inland Empire would be able to elect their own Senators.

        Same with states like Texas and Florida. Let the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex be its own state, Harris County (Houston) could be its own state, Bexar County, (San Antonio) could be its own state, Miami-Dade County can be its own state, etc. Then, if you do this, there’s a lot less of an objection to letting DC also attain full statehood, which is a step that is long overdue. Nothing in the Constitution says that it is unconstitutional for DC to be a state, all that has to happen is for Maryland to agree that it can be its own state (Or just let DC come back to Maryland. That would be fine too.)

  3. @ Adam, I don’t think this is a partisan issue at all but a Constitutional issue that would be beneficial because the House of Representatives is the voice of the people. When that voice is not equally represented, then democracy has failed. This is a matter of everyone having a voice and not one Representative having to speak for 700,000 constituents. That is an impossible task and one that the Framers did not intend.
    @desmoinesdem The Senate is the voice of the State, therefore 2 per state remains exactly as the Great Compromise dictated. This lawsuit is specific to the House of Rep.
    Follow up at Apportionment.US It is loaded with much for information.

  4. I wanted to address a couple of points.
    1) Where would we put all of the reps? In the FAQ on the Apportionment.US website, it says:
    “Q: Where would we fit/put everybody? A: There are a number of reasonable options – a couple of examples: a) There are several federal office buildings in the immediate area of the House. Federal personnel from these agencies can be relocated to other areas. b) There are parking areas for House employees in the immediate area which could be the site for new House offices (with plenty of parking in basement garages). It is also important to note that current technology (e.g., email, electronic voting, web conferencing) greatly eases the logistical burden associated with a larger body of members.”
    2) Significance of 30,000
    At Apportionment.US, we don’t believe that 30,000 is necessarily magical either. In fact, the lawsuit mentions two possible options. Option A calls for a House size of 1761, which creates district sizes of approx. 160,000. Plan B calls for a House size of 932, which creates district sizes of approx. 300,000.
    What we should all agree with is that district sizes of over 700,000 are TOO LARGE!

  5. Alex is absolutely right to point out that saying the number of representatives “shall not exceed” one for every 30,000 Americans does NOT imply that the Constitution requires one representative for every 30,000 Americans.

    I asked my husband about this, as he knows a lot more about comparative election laws and procedures. He says that a rule of thumb for the ideal size of the legislature is the cube root of the country’s population. Assuming the U.S. has about 305 million people, the cube root would be 673 members of the House of Representatives (bigger but not unmanageable–about the size of the UK House of Commons).

    1. @desmoinesdem,
      I am NOT an expert in any way, shape, or form, but I thought it was important to get this story out for discussion regarding the implications of what has not happened over the past 100 years and what could happen because of this lawsuit. I personally believe that more representatives we have, the better the representation we have at our disposal. Too much power in so few hands does indeed have corruption tendencies.
      As I don’t have an excel spread sheet, and really don’t have the knowledge to get to a precise number, I can’t say much to the math that is involved. However, the Apportionment.US site does address these aspects with which I am not familiar.
      Keep up the great discussion!

  6. Although I strongly agree with the premise of the cause, I must speak as a mathematician first and as a follwer of politics second in saying that the data that is purported to support the cause is deeply flawed.

    Go to the following URL and read the last three posts by Jim Riley.

    The law aside, I find it highly unlikely that if a proportionality standard is made the rule for apportionment, that Congress would increase its size from 1,950 to 3,045 members (as would have been required during the censuses of 1950 and 1960), and then from 3,156 in 1970 down to 2,269 in 1980 via the exact same mathematical construction.

Comments are closed.

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