We often hear of one subject or another being referred to as “a matter of life and death,” but that’s rarely the case.
It just happens to be of importance to people who believe it to be of great significance. Others may not feel the same way — if they even care about it at all.
Everything is relative, and this is covered by Miles’ Law, which is named for Rufus E. Miles Jr., a bureaucrat in the 1940s who famously said, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”
Miles served in the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations and was prescient enough half a century ago to see a growing polarization in the Congress, where Democrats sit on one side of the aisle and Republicans sit on the other in both the Senate and the House.
Both sides believe they are right and the other is wrong.
Congressional division along political party lines has reached the point where America’s national legislature can become so divided over a couple of issues that it is dysfunctional to the point of being nonfunctional.
We used to hear the term “do-nothing Congress” with some regularity, but it no longer seems appropriate. Congress has for several years actually been doing something — arguing over one or two issues to the virtual exclusion of everything else that needs attention, such as infrastructure repair, coming up with a rational immigration system, reducing the national debt and the like.
Almost since the time he was inaugurated, one of the sides that believes it is right has been trying to have President Donald Trump removed from office — something the other side is in no hurry to do.
The anti-Trump side has threatened to impeach him in the House of Representatives, which will mean nothing unless the Senate decides to convict him — which at this point is unlikely.
It also has considered having him declared mentally unfit to hold office under the provisions of the 25th Amendment and having him removed that way. Good luck with that one, too.
Lately, the discussion has surrounded the contents of the Mueller report and whether it does or does not absolve Trump of criminal obstruction. We can expect the arguing to metastasize. (See: “Russia report ...,” May 30 Times-News, Page 1A.)
The losing side in the 2016 election has claimed that Trump shouldn’t be president because he lost the popular vote. Trump is president because he won the Electoral College vote, which the Founding Fathers established in the U.S. Constitution as a means of averting what’s now called “the tyranny of the majority.” Just because you have the most votes, that doesn’t mean you can roughshod over everyone else.
Those who wish to eliminate the Electoral College say Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.
Those who wish to keep the Electoral College say Clinton won New York, Chicago and Los Angeles by 3.95 million votes, but Trump won the rest of the country by 1.3 million votes. Were it not for the Electoral College, three big cities would have decided the election, and the rest of the United States could have stayed home.
It was also to deter “the tyranny of the majority” that the Constitution specifies that the House of Representatives be apportioned on the basis of population, while the U.S. Senate is to consist of two members from each state, regardless of their size.
The idea was that rural counties should have a counterbalance to towns and cities in the legislature.
This concept was in place in several states until 1964, when the U.S. Supreme Court held by an 8-1 margin in Reynolds v. Sims that any chamber of a state legislature must be roughly equal in population. A constitutional amendment would be needed to change the apportionment of Congress.
The ruling was based on the principle of “one person, one vote,” which Chief Justice Earl Warren said means that “Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests.”
“One person, one vote,” appears nowhere in the Federalist papers, which collectively explain why the Constitution was written the way it was. (The Constitution as written wasn’t perfect, having been amended 27 times — in most cases with good reason, such as the abolition of slavery.)
We would disagree with the late chief justice in at least one respect, however: Legislators sometimes ARE elected by economic interests.
Maryland was one of the states in which each county sent an equal number of representatives to the state Senate. That changed with Reynolds v. Sims.
The Maryland General Assembly has 47 senators and 141 delegates. The most populous jurisdictions of Baltimore city and Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have 28 senators and 88 delegates between them — more than a majority in both houses. Allegany and Garrett counties have one senator and three delegates combined.
What we’ll call “The Big Four” can do whatever they wish with regard to legislation, and the state’s other 20 counties can do little about it.
Whether this constitutes “the tyranny of the majority” depends upon whether you live in rural Maryland or urban Maryland.
In other words, where you stand depends entirely upon where you sit.