A Modest Proposal To Overhaul The Senate

The state lines that delineate Senatorial jurisdiction have produced a homogenous upper chamber, out of step with the country it serves. The Senate is richer, whiter, and maler than its constituents. This arrangement is not unintentional — James Madison, decrying factionalism in Federalist Paper 10, states explicitly that “the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property,” and, as he wrote in an era where few women owned property and black Americans were considered property, the interests of the rich carried certain demographic correlations. They have largely persisted. Small states or large, coastal or landlocked, agrarian or industrial, deserts, forests, and grasslands— the disparate regional concerns of the country nevertheless are represented overwhelmingly by rich white men.

Despite Madison’s rhetorical skill, “suppressing the peasants” does not make for a compelling justification, and so arguments in favor of the Senate have evolved into a series of more palatable euphemisms, from George Washington’s apocryphal “cooling saucer,” to revanchist Southern Dixiecrats howling for “state’s rights”. The current manifestation paints the Senate as a safeguard against the “tyranny of the majority.” This is an ideal laughably removed from the sordid reality, in which senatorial inertia and bigotry has worked against the civil rights of black voters, same-sex couples, women seeking health care, and a host of other unfortunate et ceteras. It contains, however, the seed of a better vision of the Senate, one in which it does protect the rights of minorities, not merely the aristocracy. Instead of using states to determine representation, why not more egalitarian criteria?

The proposal is simple. Instead of two senators from each state, we send two from each of the following groups:

  1. Male
  2. Female
  3. Straight
  4. Gay
  5. Lesbian
  6. Bisexual
  7. Transgender
  8. White, Non-Hispanic
  9. Black
  10. Asian
  11. American Indian or Alaskan Native
  12. Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
  13. Hispanic
  14. 18–29 years old
  15. 30–44
  16. 45–64
  17. 65+
  18. income < $30,000
  19. income $30,000–$49,999
  20. income $50,000–$99,999
  21. income $100,000-$199,999
  22. income $200,000-$249,999
  23. income >$250,000
  24. No High School Diploma
  25. High School Diploma (highest educational level reached)
  26. Bachelor’s/Associate’s degree (highest educational level reached)
  27. Graduate degree (highest educational level reached)
  28. Catholic
  29. Protestant
  30. Jewish
  31. Muslim
  32. Atheist/nonreligious
  33. Veteran
  34. Disabled
  35. Parents
  36. Childless
  37. Married
  38. Single
  39. Formerly incarcerated
  40. Foreign-Born
  41. Homeowner
  42. Renter
  43. Northwestern region
  44. Southwestern region
  45. Midwestern region
  46. Southern region
  47. Southeastern region
  48. Mid-Atlantic region
  49. Northeastern Region
  50. Non-contiguous states/territories

A combination of protected classes, census divisions, and geographic breakdowns (for nostalgic types) serves as our new makeup. Candidates could only run for one position, and voters could only vote once per mutually-exclusive category. The ideal citizen would hew to the demographics to which they belonged, but, as enforcement would be impossible, the limitation serves to prevent gaming the system. Six year terms and staggered elections remain — the plutocratic rot, ideally, does not. The anti-majoritarian ethos may or may not.

Objections to this hypothetical version of the Senate falter when compared to the arbitrary and partisan cartographical whims that determine the body’s current existence. Why lump all protestants together? For the same reason 2 people must pretend to be adequate liasons for the needs of 39 million Californians. Do you feel excluded from the list? Commiserate with residents of D.C. and Puerto Rico. Do the overlapping categories chafe at your sensibilities? Consider how many Senators own property in multiple states. If nothing else, the thought experiment for this system reveals the shortcomings of the current one.

The advantages of the proposed change, however, are not present at present. This system guarantees representation for minority groups that are excluded at best and suppressed and victimized at worst. It adheres to all the lofty idealism put forth in defense of the Congressional body, with insurance against the concentration of power to which we are currently subjected to. Madison warned against factionalism — this system institutionalizes the factions but gives none of them overwhelming authority, provoking the coalition-building and cooperation longed for by pundits and historians. It breaks up the centuries old monopoly of the rich, the white, and the male.

Hell, it’s worth a shot.