More Constitutional Revisions: Cities, States, and City-States

Those of us who still remember studying ancient history in the 6th grade or whenever know the concept of the city-state.  Athens, Sparta, Thebes, those guys.  The cognoscenti attribute their rise to the peculiar geography of Greece (and, later of Italy—you know, Rome, Milan, Venice and so on, especially during the Renaissance)—you couldn’t go much of any place without fording a river or climbing a bunch of mountains.  The only currently operating city-state is Singapore, though it is large enough, rich enough, and peculiar enough to be worth taking seriously despite its uniqueness. 


It might be worth looking at the federal system in the US in relation to our cities, if we are going to talk about revising the Constitution at all.  ATRORM (see, there are 38 states with smaller populations than New York City, and 26 smaller than Los Angeles. Each of those states gets two senators and at least one congresscritter. The cities get precisely none. Most states are cobbled together from one or two large cities and their environs plus a “downstate” or “upstate.” Senators, generally, get to be senators by juggling the interests of cities and downstates (or sometimes upstates), and only the congresscritters from the cities get to represent interests of those cities, in which the largest number of Americans live.


The larger cities clearly have more in common with each other than any of them has with the other residents of the state in which it is located.  According to the latest information, the largest cities in North America, by population, are Mexico City, New York City, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Chicago.  Mexico City and Toronto are, obviously, not under discussion here.  Yet.  But I suspect that the next ten probably deserve consideration here too (that’s Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Jacksonville FL, Indianapolis, and Austin.)  And maybe a few others as well, like Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco, and Cleveland (or everybody with a major league sports franchise?)

There have been a few serious proposals about reshaping the states, most notably Joel Garreau’s Nine Nations of North America (1981), “How to Make a State” (, “Electoral college reform (fifty states with equal population)” (, and “The US Redrawn As 50 Equally Populated States( I’m not sure any of them really deal with the urban-vs.-everyone-else dichotomy which is the real fault line here. 


One of the things that the original city-states often did (both in Greece and in Italy, and still later, in Germany) was form leagues for purposes of trade (mostly) and self-defense.  Perhaps that should be a structural alternative for the smaller cities (everybody but the Big Three?)  Maybe Northern, Midwestern, Southern, and Western leagues of cities? Each of the Big Three and each League would have the constitutional status now held by the states. Assuming that each state (minus its ranking cities) would retain its current status, that would leave us with fifty-seven states, 114 senators, and a major but perfectly feasible job of reapportionment for the House of Representatives.


At the same time, we ought to get rid of the current 435-member cap for the House (set in 1929, for pete’s sake!) and go back to the 30,000 to 40,000 citizens per representative that the Framers originally had in mind.  The 1929 cap, by the way, was originally set because 435 was the largest number of desks the House chamber could accommodate.  These days, desks are probably the least important furnishings in the chamber.  One comfortable chair and a table large enough to hold a laptop computer (or maybe just a tablet) per representative would easily suffice. Or the chamber could be enlarged.  Or both. 


Along with all of this geographic rejiggering, if we Wired Sisters had our druthers, we would like to see a constitutional requirement that all reapportionment be done by non-partisan, non-political entities on the basis of natural or geometric boundaries, to end the current practice of politicians choosing their constituencies, rather than vice versa.  Given how long (roughly 200 years) it took the Supreme Court to come up with the Baker vs. Carr requirements for one-person-one-vote districts, it would undoubtedly take a constitutional amendment to accomplish this.


We will probably be coming up with some other revisionist proposals in the coming months—it seems like a good way to avoid the news.  Let’s hope next week is better than this week has been.






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