Article V of the Constitution, Explained

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The United States Senate favors states with small populations. Wyoming has half a million people and California has 40 million people, but they both get exactly two senators each.

I assume we all know this, right? And we know how unfair it is. And how much it favors Republicans. And how it’s intolerable and we should change it. And how it’s the root of all evil at this moment in history. Etc. This is pretty much all true, but before anybody says anything more, I’d like to introduce you all to Article V of the US Constitution:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution…..

Article V is about amending the Constitution. You all know how that’s done, so let’s skip ahead to the final sentence:

Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

See that? It means that you can’t amend the Constitution to change the Senate. Every state gets the same number of votes. Period. Even if you fancifully assume that there’s some way of getting a whole bunch of states to agree to reduce their own power via constitutional amendment, it doesn’t matter. There’s no way to alter Senate representation without calling a constitutional convention and literally writing a whole new constitution.

So can we please all stop yammering about this? It’s unfair and intolerable and its roots are offensive and blah blah blah. But it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing you can do to change it. If you want to yammer about something useful, how about coming up with ways for progressives to do a better job of winning votes in small states?


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It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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