Sunday, January 25, 2009

Seventeenth Amendment & Senators

Much in the news these days is the Seventeenth Amendment:

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each
State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall
have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications
requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the
executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such
vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the
executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the
vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of
any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.

Two news sources - - - one the conservative blog and the other the progressive magazine/blog The Nation - - - are reporting that Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold plans to propose an Amendment to alter the Seventeenth Amendment.    As John Nichols, writing for The Nation, observes:

The practice of allowing governors to appoint senators conflicts, as well, with the Constitutional requirement that House vacancies always be filled by special elections.

Thus, while no one can sit in the House without first facing the voters, the new Senate will have at least four unelected members (holding Obama's old Illinois seat, Clinton's old New York seat, Vice President Joe Biden's seat and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's Colorado seat). Though they lack ballot-box legitimacy, those senators will be able to cast equal votes to those of their 96 elected colleagues on matters of war and peace, economic renewal and social policy.

Nichols quotes Senator Feingold as saying, "I plan to introduce a constitutional amendment this week to require special elections when a Senate seat is vacant, as the Constitution mandates for the House, and as my own state of Wisconsin already requires by statute . . .  As the Chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee, I will hold a hearing on this important topic soon."


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