A common theme among those in the "tea party" movement is that ordinary citizens ought to participate more in the business of government. Yet some tea party activists — and likeminded politicians and commentators — are espousing a return to the election of U.S. senators by state legislatures rather than the people. That would require repealing the 17th Amendment, which was ratified in 1913.
The "Repeal the 17th" campaign is rooted in a nostalgia for an era in which state governments exercised as much influence as the federal government — or more. As one advocate of repeal puts it: "If senators were again selected by state legislatures, the longevity of Senate careers would be tethered to their vigilant defense of their state's interest — rather than to the interest of Washington forces of influence."
Or to the interests of individual voters, of course. For states' rights is only one theme in the Repeal the 17th movement; the other is skepticism about popular democracy. Restoring the original political order to which many tea partyers seem to be drawn would require the repeal of more amendments than one.
For example, America was a different place before the adoption of the 14th Amendment, added after the Civil War. Like the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, and the 15th, which barred racial discrimination in voting, the 14th Amendment overrode what had once been seen as state prerogatives. It is best known for its definition of citizenship: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside." But it also profoundly altered the relationship between the states and the federal government.