Sean Casten Proposes New Package of Legislation for US Democracy

Are you tired of feeling like your voice doesn’t count in government decisions? Rep. Casten’s package of reforms could change that, by bringing a more representative democracy to the United States.

Devin Oommen, Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct descriptions of Casten’s proposals.

With decisions on many political issues not reflecting how the majority of Americans would vote on them, Rep. Sean Casten introduced a package of legislation to alter the makeup of the United States Congress and the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to make the government more representative of the population.  

The package of legislation is named “A Common Sense Vision for American Democracy.”

Casten provided details for the package in a press release from Jan. 31. The package includes two bills and one Constitutional amendment. The objective of the proposed legislation is to expand the House and Senate, and adjust the jurisdiction of federal courts. 

The Courier reached out to Rep. Casten for comment about the package. 

“Rep. Casten’s schedule is really packed the next few weeks given votes in DC and the State of the Union, so we’ll have to pass,” said Jacob Vurpillat, Communications Director for Casten. 

In the press release, Casten stated the package hopes to meet the promise of U.S. democracy to fulfill the will of the people. 

“There is a growing list of issues – from climate action to gun control to healthcare to voting rights – where the federal government has consistently ignored the priorities of the majority of Americans,” said Casten.

Proposals like this are often met with opposition, as many cite changes to the system that was created by the founders as unnecessary.

In an interview, COD Political Science Professor David Goldberg said that the founders likely did not intend for every part of their system to be set in stone. 

“There’s nothing wrong with changing the system. When our Constitution becomes a secular version of a religious text, that’s not helpful,” said Goldberg. 

A main component of all three items in the package would increase the number of seats in the House, Senate, and Supreme Court.

The Equal Voice Act would change the size of the House from a fixed 435 representatives to a calculated number of representatives based on results of the decennial census. The size of the House would be determined by dividing the population of the United States by the population of the least populous state, and rounded to the nearest odd whole number.

Based on 2020 census data, if the bill was in effect now, the House would have 573 seats. According to Casten, the purpose of the bill is to bring the size of the House in line with the U.S. population. The bill has been co-sponsored by Democratic Reps. Earl Blumenauer from Oregon and Don Beyer from Virginia. 

Part of Casten’s reasoning for increasing the size of the House is to make the electoral college more representative of the majority of American voters. Results of presidential elections that do not reflect the results of the popular vote have bolstered pushes for abolishing the electoral college or reforming the electoral system. 

“I think making our system more democratic with the legislature and with the judicial branch is not something that we should shy away from,” said Goldberg. “Our electoral system is profoundly problematic.”

Also in the package is a constitutional amendment co-sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer. The amendment would establish 12 Senators at-large who would be elected through a nationwide system of ranked choice voting. This would bring the size of the Senate to 62.  

Ranked choice voting is an electoral system that allows voters to rank candidates and requires a candidate to receive a majority of votes to win. If no candidates have a majority, the candidate with the least amount of votes is eliminated. The election then goes to a second round. Ballots that listed the eliminated candidate as the first choice are reallocated to that voter’s next choice. This continues until there is a candidate that has a majority of votes.

Ranked choice voting is a popular alternative proposed by those who advocate for electoral system reform and is used in some local and primary elections across the United States.

In addition, the bill would add 12 electors who would meet in D.C. and cast electoral college votes based on which candidates for president and vice president received the majority of total votes. 

Constitutional amendments require a supermajority of two-thirds of both houses of Congress and must be ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures. These requirements make passing constitutional amendments like Casten’s an arduous process.

“Those supermajorities were designed by the founders to make it hard, but not impossible to change the Constitution,” said Goldberg. “I also think it becomes a problem because I think pieces of the Constitution and federal law like electoral laws are woefully out of date and need to be reformed.”

To get around the difficult process of reforming the constitution, states have started to implement state legislation that say the states electoral votes will go to the winner of the national popular vote.

The second bill in the package is named the Restoring Judicial Separation of Power Act. The bill would create a randomly chosen 13-judge, multi-circuit court panel to hear cases that the United States or Federal agency is a party, cases concerning constitutional interpretation of Federal law, or cases clarifying the function of an executive order. It would also require a supermajority of 70% of panel judges to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional. 

Currently, declaring congressional acts unconstitutional through judicial review requires a simple majority of supreme court judges.

The fate of this package rests in whether House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, assigns any part of the package to a committee, where it would go through a process of being amended before ever seeing a vote on the House floor.