Dalton Conley and Jacqueline Stevens make a pretty compelling argument in a recent NY Times op-ed:
With the Senate preparing to debate filibuster reform, now is a good time to consider a similarly daunting challenge to democratic representation in the House: its size. It’s been far too long since the House expanded to keep up with population growth and, as a result, it has lost touch with the public and been overtaken by special interests.
Indeed, the lower chamber of Congress has had the same number of members for so long that many Americans assume that its 435 seats are constitutionally mandated.
But that’s wrong: while the founders wanted to limit the size of the Senate, they intended the House to expand based on population growth. Instead of setting an absolute number, the Constitution merely limits the ratio of members to population. “The number of representatives shall not exceed one for every 30,000,” the founders wrote. They were concerned, in other words, about having too many representatives, not too few.
When the House met in 1787 it had 65 members, one for every 60,000 inhabitants (including slaves as three-fifths of a person). For well over a century, after each census Congress would pass a law increasing the size of the House.
But after the 1910 census, when the House grew from 391 members to 433 (two more were added later when Arizona and New Mexico became states), the growth stopped. That’s because the 1920 census indicated that the majority of Americans were concentrating in cities, and nativists, worried about of the power of “foreigners,” blocked efforts to give them more representatives.
By the time the next decade rolled around, members found themselves reluctant to dilute their votes, and the issue was never seriously considered again…
[Read the rest at the NY Times]
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