Policy in a Page: The 17th Amendment, Brown vs. Board of Education, Hercules in New York and disaster declarations.


Image May 13, 1912 — The 17th Amendment Passes the House

The 17th Amendment to the Constitution enjoys little notoriety next to its Progressive Era counterparts such as women's suffrage, the income tax and Prohibition. Nevertheless, the 17th has done more to alter the United States' federal model than virtually any act before or since, providing for direct election of senators by each state's citizens. For the first 124 years of the republic, states enjoyed direct representation in Congress through their legislatures' appointment of U.S. senators. Allegations of Senate corruption proliferated at the turn of the century, however, and a burgeoning reform effort gathered steam behind the muckraking press of reform-minded William Randolph Hearst.

The most important element of the amendment merely tweaked two words in Article I, section 3 of the Constitution. By replacing the phrase "chosen by the Legislature thereof" with "elected by the people thereof," the structure of American federalism was thus fundamentally changed forever.

Image May 17, 1954 — Brown v. Board of Education 

For many states struggling to cope with the requirements of No Child Left Behind, the federal government's attempt to set policy in an area traditionally reserved for state and local governments is at best a mixed blessing. Nevertheless, federal intervention in the nation's schools righted one of the country's most serious wrongs. On this day in 1954, the Supreme Court issued its unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, marking the beginning of the end for nearly 90 years of institutionalized racial segregation in the American south.


"May I remind you, this area here gave me 80% of the vote. Think about that, 80% of the vote. The other 20% just never forgave me for my movie Hercules in New York."

—California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at a recent town hall meeting in Concord, California.


Sometimes states need federal help to deal with emergencies. The top and bottom five states for declared disasters--all time--according to FEMA: