What about packing the House of Representatives?

In the first U.S. Congress, the members who represented the largest number of people were the Senators from the most populous state, Virginia, who represented about 750,000 people.  For the current Congress, the median district of the House of Representatives includes about 750,000 people.  In the first Congress, each member of the House represented around 60,000 people.  The average congressional district population in the early days of the Republic dropped to around 40,000 by the 3rd Congress in 1793, or about 6% the size of a current median congressional district.

The reason congressional districts have grown to have such a large population now compared to the early Congresses is that the number of members of Congress was frozen at 435 by statute in the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929.  In 1929 the U.S. population was about 120 million.  Today, the U.S. population is around 330 million, meaning that with a fixed 435 House members, district population has grown and will continue to grow until the number of House members is increased or, better yet, linked to population.

Concerning the representation in the House, the U.S. Constitution says, "The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative."  The U.S. Constitution does not set a maximum population for congressional districts.

Having congressional districts the size of the largest state at the founding and growing means that members of Congress are more and more removed from the people they are supposed to represent.  A not too surprising result of this is that members of Congress now think and act more like senators.  Thus, members of the House of Representatives tend to be homogeneous representing heterogeneous districts rather than the members being heterogeneous representing homogeneous districts.

That is, members of Congress tend to be more like other members of Congress rather than more like their constituents.  This is why House members like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (MTG), who more truly represent their districts, stand out.  That conservatives rarely agree with AOC but agree with many things MGT supports is beside the point.  Each says and is for things a typical member of Congress representing a state-size district wants to hedge on.

So what population should a congressional district be?  There is a site that supports the congressional districts of 30,000 population.  The 30,000 in the U.S. Constitution was a good number for that time and era.  One proposed amendment among those that became the Bill of Rights would have eventually required a representative for every 50,000 people.  However, since 1790, communication and transportation have improved greatly, and it is currently possible to know and be in touch with more people.  I think a Congress where each member of the House would represent 100,000 people would be reasonable.  There is clearly room for debate on the exact number, but three-quarters of a million people is too large.

Congressional districts of 100,000 would mean that the House of Representatives would have around 3,300 members today.  A House with 3,300 members might be harder for the leadership to wrangle.  It would cost much less to run for office in a district of 100,000 people than one 7.5 times larger.  There might be more debate, and more ideas might be considered by the membership.  These members would likely be much more heterogeneous than today.  There would likely be some socialists and some libertarians.  There would likely be some fundamentalist Christian, Islamic and Jewish members.  There would be more AOCs and others like the members of her squad that would drive conservatives a bit crazy, but there would also be more MTGs and others like her who would be a counter-balance to the extreme left.  That is, a House of Representatives with 3,3000 members would likely more represent America and less represent Washington, D.C.

James L. Swofford is a professor of economics in the Department of Economics, Finance and Real Estate at the University of South Alabama.

Image: Lars Di Scenza via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0 (cropped).

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