Blame the Constitution for Capping House Size


I admit it. I’ve never given much thought to the number of people serving in the House of Representatives. I have no idea why there are 435, but that’s the way it’s been for the last century since Congress capped the size following the 1910 census. It all goes back to the Constitution, which specifies a maximum – but no minimum – total count.

As you can imagine, that’s caused some controversy over the years. Check out some of the details from Congress.org :

"The Constitution states that the number of representatives is one for every 30,000 people. How is it now limited to 435?" 

You’re right. The Constitution states that "the Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each state shall have at least one representative."

With a current U.S. population of over 300 million, that would work out to about 10,000 representatives – not to mention the chiefs of staff, legislative analysts and spokesmen for each of them.

Until the 20th century, the size of the House increased after each census to reflect the growth in the country’s population. Over time, the growth in new states and the country’s population threatened to make the House too large to be a workable legislative body (insert your own joke here) in the views of many in D.C.

After the 1910 census, Congress fixed the size of the House at 435, where it remains today. Congress later made the cap official when it passed the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929, which also established a procedure for automatically reapportioning seats after every census.

Under reapportionment, California’s delegation has grown from 11 members in the 1920s to 53 today. Florida, Texas and Arizona have also seen similar exponential jumps. Ohio, on the other hand, has gone from a high of 24 representatives to 18, while Pennsylvania has dropped from 36 to 19.

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