Monday, January 24, 2011

More On Today's NY Times Opinion Piece on House Size

The opinion piece in today's New York Times I co-wrote with Dalton Conley, arguing we should increase the House size, is based on research I did just after the 1990 census. (I submitted a long-lost piece to the Times then but they declined. Maybe it was because I was a graduate student or maybe 100 years since an increase is worth noting but not the mere 80 years at that time.)

update 5:30 pm: "Talk of the Nation" has the link from today's segment on the opinion piece here.

A few additional pieces of information that didn't make it in:

1) Following the 1920 census, not only did Congress stop increasing the size of the House, they actually violated their constitutionally-mandated duty to reapportion altogether!

For the first time, the census showed more people living in urban than rural areas, and legislators feared the shift, another example of how paranoia about "foreigners" causes people to themselves violate the rule of law. As Edgar J. Hoover's agents were violating the constitution's fourth and fifth amendments pursuant to deporting alleged Communists and anarchists, Congress was violating the right of all Americans to equal representation, not to mention ignoring one of the few affirmative duties the founders assigned it.

In 1928, after President Calvin Coolidge threatened to veto future legislation until this was fixed, the House agreed to a formula for shifting seats around, contemplating as well an increase to 485 members. But with the 1930 census around the corner, legislators held off because they already had the formula for redistributing 435 members and wanted to avoid further delays. They never contemplated that the number would remain fixed at 435 for an entire century.

2) The actual change in representation may be more dire than the one published. That's because the original denominator includes slaves, albeit counted as 3/5 an inhabitant, and women. Of course neither could vote. The passage of the 19th amendment in 1920 doubled the size of the electorate, at exactly the time that Congress failed to increase its size and representativeness.

In the event, if a civics lesson in the New York Times contributes in a small way to a national conversation about a rather glaring, and easily remediated, defect in our representative democracy that would be terrific.

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