Article I, Section 3, Clause 1:
The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.
Ratified in 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment superseded Article I, Section 3, Clause 1, providing for Senators to be popularly elected rather than selected by state legislatures.1 The Seventeenth Amendment, however, incorporated other provisions of Article I, Section 3, Clause 1: equal suffrage among states, each state accorded two Senators, each of whom would have one vote and serve a six-year term.2
Adopted by the Constitutional Convention and incorporated in the Seventeenth Amendment, the text set forth in Article I, Section 3, clause 1, providing that “[t]he Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State . . . and each Senator shall have one vote” 3 is foundational to the federal nature of the U.S. Government. By providing for each state to be represented in the Senate by two Senators, each with a single vote, the Constitution ensures that all states are equal in the Senate regardless of their relative population, wealth, power, or size.4 By allocating power in the Senate equally among the states, the Framers counterbalanced allocating power in the House based on a state’s share of the national population.5
The different compositions of the House of Representatives and Senate reflect the Framers’ conception of the U.S. Government as both national and federal.6 Consistent with a National Government, the Constitution provides for the American people to be equally represented in the House.7 Consistent with a federation of states, the Constitution provides for equal representation of states in the Senate.8 Stressing that equal suffrage is critical to state sovereignty in his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, Justice Joseph Story stated: “The equal vote allowed in the senate is . . . at once a constitutional recognition of the sovereignty remaining in the states, and an instrument for the preservation of it. It guards them against (what they meant to resist as improper) a consolidation of the states into one simple republic.” 9 By arranging for the House and Senate to exercise legislative power jointly, the Framers required U.S. law to have both national and federal approval—a majority vote in the House of Representatives demonstrates national approval while a majority vote in the Senate expresses federal approval.10
- U.S. Const. amend. XVII.
- Id. ( “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote.” ).
- U.S. Const. art. I, § 3, cl. 1; U.S. Const. amend. XVII.
- See, e.g., Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States § 691 (1833) ( “[E]ach state in its political capacity is represented upon a footing of perfect equality, like a congress of sovereigns, or ambassadors, or like an assembly of peers.” ).
- Compare U.S. Const. art. I, § 3, cl. 1 with U.S. Const. art. I, § 2, cl. 3.
- Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States § 696 (1833) ( “[T]he very structure of the general government contemplated one partly federal, and partly national.” ).
- U.S. Const. art. I, § 2, cl. 3.
- U.S. Const. art. I, § 3, cl. 1.
- Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States § 696 (1833). See also The Federalist No. 62 (James Madison) ( “[T]he equal vote allowed to each State is at once a constitutional recognition of that portion of sovereignty remaining in the individual States, and an instrument for preserving that residuary sovereignty. So far the equality ought to be no less acceptable to the large than to the small States; since they are not less solicitous to guard, by every possible expedient, against an improper consolidation of the States into one simple republic.” ).
- The Federalist No. 62 (James Madison) ( “No law or resolution can now be passed without the concurrence, first, of a majority of the people, and then, of a majority of the States.” ). The Framers also saw the division of power between the House and Senate as ensuring that they would check abuses of power by the other. Id. ( “[A] senate, as a second branch of the legislative assembly, distinct from, and dividing the power with, a first, must be in all cases a salutary check on the government. It doubles the security to the people, by requiring the concurrence of two distinct bodies in schemes of usurpation or perfidy, where the ambition or corruption of one would otherwise be sufficient.” ).