| A House of Our Own or A House We’ve Outgrown?
An Argument for Increasing the
the House of Representatives
Many Americans would probably be surprised to discover that the House of Representatives’ current size is set neither by the Constitution nor a constitutional amendment. Rather, the number 435 was simply the size of the House when that body froze its growth. The Framers, however, intended the House to grow proportionately with the population. A string of recent events, including the census, the subsequent reapportionment of House seats and a lawsuit challenging the current method of reapportionment, suggest that the size of the House should be re-examined.
Although the House of Representatives grew proportionately with the population of the United States until 1912, the size of the House has not changed since that date. The current freeze, which became formalized in 1929, was not based upon any study or evaluation of the ideal size of a legislature. Instead, the decision was made because Congress was unable to agree upon an increase in the House’s membership.
Since the workload of Congress has increased commensurately with the growth in population, the time has come to re-examine whether 435 is the appropriate size for the House of Representatives. This question becomes even more important when one considers the potential conflict between the House and the courts over apportionment. Montana, with a population of 799,000, will have one congressman for the first time since 1900, when its population was 243,000. Montana has sued to have the 1929 Act declared unconstitutional, alleging that the Act violates the constitutional principle of one person-one vote because of the disparity between the size of the average district, 572,000, and the size of Montana’s district.
This Article argues that the Framers of the Constitution intended the House of Representatives to grow with the population so that each member of the House would represent a fixed number of citizens. In section II, this Article discusses Montana v. United States Department of Commerce, the recent district court decision which held that the use of the mathematical formula known as equal proportions violates the one person-one vote doctrine. After concluding that the district court decision should be upheld because the current system of reapportionment violates one person-one vote, section III analyzes the constitutional and historical arguments favoring either the affirmance of Montana’s suit or a statute increasing the size of the House. This section concentrates on the history of the debate over the appropriate size for the House of Representatives, including (1) the intent of the Framers, (2) the 1929 debates and (3) the 1961 attempt to increase the size of the House after the addition of Alaska and Hawaii as states. Section IV compares the size of the U.S. House with legislatures in other western democracies, noting that most have larger lower houses which function efficiently and responsively. Finally, section V analyzes the public policy reasons in favor of expansion and concludes that expansion should occur.
*By Christopher St. John Yates, Administrative Editor. J.L. & Soc. Probs., 1991-92;
Marian Brancaccio, Markus Boser, Ken Karas and Andy Dansicker.
The footnotes referenced in the excerpt above can be found in the original article.