The Antiquated Constitutional Structure of the U.S. Senate 

This year’s U.S. election re-emphasizes, for this blogger, the antiquated nature of the U.S. Constitution, especially the U.S. Senate.

Alec MacGillis, a government and politics reporter for ProPublica and the author of “The Cynic: The Political Education of Mitch McConnell,” points out that Democratic voters are increasingly concentrated in certain cities and urban areas while the Constitution allocates two Senate seats to each state regardless of population. The juxtaposition of these phenomena “helps explain why the Democrats are perpetually struggling to hold a majority. The Democrats have long been at a disadvantage in the Senate, where the populous, urbanized states where Democrats prevail get the same two seats as the rural states where Republicans are stronger. The 20 states where Republicans hold both Senate seats have, on average, 5.2 million people each; the 16 states where the Democrats hold both seats average 7.9 million people. Put another way, winning Senate elections in states with a total of 126 million people has netted the Democrats eight fewer seats than the Republicans get from winning states with 104 million people.”[1]

Nevertheless, Democrats are seeing signs that they may gain control of the Senate this election.

However, Chris Cillizza, a Washington Post columnist, points out that this control may last only two years. The reason? In the next election in 2018, 25 of the 33 Senate seats up for election are currently held by Democrats, and five of these Democratic seats are in states that then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried in 2012 (and even Trump is likely to carry on this year’s election): Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia. Three other Democratic seats are far from “safe” seats:  Sen. Bill Nelson (Florida) Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin). The Republican seats up for election in 2018, on the other hand, look like difficult challenges for the Democrats.[2]

These consequences of the current constitutional structure of the U.S. Senate suggest, as argued in a prior post, “that the U.S. Senate in particular needs radical reform if we are to retain a bicameral national legislature. To require 60% of the Senators to agree in order to do almost anything [due to the filibuster rule,] for me, is outrageous. It should only be 51% for most issues. This deficiency is exacerbated by the fact that each state has two and only two Senators regardless of the state’s population. Yes, this was part of the original grand and anti-democratic compromise in the late 18th century when there were 13 states. But the expansion of the union to 50 states has made the Senate even more anti-democratic.” [3]

Since “I believe that it would not be wise to increase the size of the Senate to reflect the population of the states (like the allocation of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives) and that each state should continue to have two Senators in a bicameral upper house, I suggest for discussion that there be weighted voting in the Senate. Each Senator from Wyoming (the least populous state in 2010 with 564,000) would have 1 vote, for example, but each Senator from California (the most populous state in 2010 with 37,254,000) would have 66 votes (37254/564 = 66.05). This approach would produce a total Senate vote of 1,094 (total U.S. population in 2010 of 308,746,000 divided by 564,000 (population of Wyoming) = 547 x 2 = 1094). The weightings would be changed every 10 years with the new census population figures.”

Such changes would aid the U.S. government in addressing the many problems facing the nation, instead of the continuation of the gridlock that has helped to prevent progress on these many problems.

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[1] MacGillis, Go Midwest, Young Hipster, N.Y. Times (Oct. 22, 2016).

[2] Cillizza, Even if Democrats Win the Senate in 2016, their majority is unlikely to endure, Wash. Post (Oct. 23, 2016).

[3] The Antiquated U.S. Constitution, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 28, 2012).

Battling Australian and Wisconsin Courts

In the mid-1980’s Sentry Insurance A Mutual Company (Sentry) of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and the parent of The Sentry Corporation, sold its Australian operations to an Australian insurance company. Thereafter the Australian buyer alleged that the financial statements for the purchased operations were materially overstated.

Federal Courthouse, Sydney, Australia
Courthouse, Stevens Point, WI

This set the stage for a conflict and battle between the Federal Court of Australia and the state courts of Wisconsin. It is an illustration of the unnecessary disputes that can be generated by litigation over international commercial disputes and that would not exist in an agreed-to international arbitration.[1]

In 1987 the Australian insurance company (the buyer) commenced a lawsuit in the Federal Court of Australia against The Sentry Corporation (the seller) and Peat Marwick Mitchell & Co. (PMM), an Australian accounting firm, for money damages caused by those alleged material financial misstatements. The Sentry Corporation made a cross claim against PMM in that case, and the case was scheduled to commence trial in Australia in October 1990.

In October 1988 Sentry commenced a lawsuit in Wisconsin state court in its home town of Stevens Point against KPMG Peat Marwick, the U.S. affiliate of PMM, relating to these issues.  In January 1990 Sentry amended its complaint to add PMM (the Australian accounting firm) as a defendant, and I was retained as PMM’s attorney.

My first maneuver was a motion to dismiss the Wisconsin complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction over the Australian accounting firm[2] and alternatively to stay or postpone the Wisconsin case until the prior Australian litigation was resolved.

Before the Wisconsin dismissal and stay motion was decided, however, the plaintiff (Sentry) noticed the oral depositions of nine PMM auditors to be taken for the Wisconsin case in Sydney, Australia. While such depositions are common practice in U.S. civil litigation, they are not in Australia and most other countries, and PMM and I believed that such depositions were a tactical move by Sentry to gain an unfair advantage in the Australian litigation. Therefore, we moved the Wisconsin court to prohibit the depositions, but the Wisconsin court denied the motion.[3]

I, therefore, went to Sydney to prepare the Australian auditors for their depositions and to defend those depositions, but after I was there, PMM requested the Australian court to issue an injunction against the depositions taking place on Australian soil. The Australian court granted that injunction. Thus, the depositions did not take place in Sydney.

Later, after my return to the U.S., the Wisconsin court denied PMM’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and granted Sentry’s motion to strike that defense to the Wisconsin plaintiff’s claims.[4]

PMM then sought and obtained permission to take interlocutory appeals (immediate appeals before final judgment) to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals from the denial of PMM’s motion to bar the depositions and from the denial of its personal jurisdiction motion and defense.

Before the Wisconsin appeals were argued and decided, however, trial of the Australian case commenced. Contrary to Australian and U.S. general practice, the Australian insurance company’s expert witness was called as the first witness (instead of waiting until all the fact witnesses had testified) and was demonstrated not to have expertise on at least some of the subjects of his proposed testimony. As a result, the plaintiff’s barrister had a nervous breakdown. This triggered the collapse of  the Australian plaintiff’s case and a truly global settlement that ended all of the litigation.

I should add that as I did not have much to do in Australia for the Wisconsin case after the Australian court enjoined the depositions. I thus had some time for personal pleasure.

Sydney Opera House

I attended a production of “Aida” at the spectacular Sydney Opera House and saw many interesting sights in that great city.

Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef

 

I also went scuba diving near Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef. I flew from Brisbane, Australia to Heron Island by helicopter and saw large triangular manta rays in the water from the air. In the hotel on the Island a male nurse from Melbourne, Australia and I formed an unbeatable team in an international game of Trivial Pursuit.

Qantas 747

My return 14-hour flight to Los Angeles on Qantas Airlines was rescheduled, and much to my consternation the only available seat was in the smoking section. I was told not to worry because I probably could be re-seated on the plane itself. That happened. I got a very comfortable and quiet seat in the upper deck of the 747.

My Australian adventure was over. Thereafter I often referred to this Australian jaunt as the best business trip I ever took.


[1] See Post: Resolving Disputes between Manufacturers and Distributors/Dealers (Aug. 9, 2011); Post; International Commercial Dispute Resolution (Aug. 11, 2011).

[2] See Post: The Personal Jurisdiction Requirement in Civil Litigation in U.S. Courts (Aug. 8, 2011).

[3] Order, Sentry Ins. v. KPMG Peat Marwick, No. 88-CV-481 (Wis. Cir. Ct. Portage Cty, May 24, 1990).

[4] Decision and Order, Sentry Ins. v. KPMG Peat Marwick, No. 88-CV-481 (Wis. Cir. Ct. Portage Cty, June 28, 1990).