Russ Feingold and Senate Amendment Proposal

Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin has made an excellent suggestion for a constitutional amendment relating to vacant Senate seats.

He plans to introduce an amendment requiring that states hold special elections to fill a Senate seat when a vacancy occurs for any reason.  This is already the case for all House seats that fall vacant, such as Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago House seat.

Why should the people of a state be denied the right to choose their senators and to put it into the hands of a governor, a constituency of one person, who might often pick someone who benefits him politically rather than what is best for the people at large?  The recent examples of Governors Blagojevich and David Paterson choosing people far from representative of their states cries for such action to be taken by Congress and the state  legislatures, and as soon as possible!

One comment on “Russ Feingold and Senate Amendment Proposal

  1. BS-Killer-​BS January 26, 2009 10:50 pm

    I disagree that the US Constitution should be amended in regards to vacancies in the US Senate. I offer the counter argument that if the Constitution needs to be amended, that emergency appointments should be permitted for the US House members as well.

    In regards to the US Senate, the 17th amendment of the Constitution (1913) already permits each State the option of how to handle a US Senate vacancy.

    “When Vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority (Governor) 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” – 17th Amendment, 2nd clause

    This permits the people of each State to decide for themselves, through their representatives, how important having two active US Senators is. They can choose to leave the vacancy until the next regularly scheduled election; They can choose to leave the seat vacant until a special election is held; They can choose to have an emergency appointment until they hold a special election; or they can choose to leave the emergency appointment in place until the next regularly scheduled election. Those are the only four options allowed and it’s up to each State to decide which is best for them.

    It is easy to foresee a situation in which one State may logically choose each one of the four options that could be the best option for them while another State may have different motivations. In cases where the State is monetarily constrained either by ability or by will of the people, the extra expense of a special statewide election may be unacceptable. And it could easily be worth waiting until the next general election by using a cost/benefit analysis. The State could also feel that the need for full representation in the US Senate is the most important factor without regard to cost. These two needs can be balanced in any way the State chooses and when considering all the possibilities that could arise, the wisdom in leaving the choice up to each State is clearly evident.

    There are also historical and symbolic differences between the two chambers of the legislature which explain why the people have chosen to set the current system in place. The House of Representatives have always been the chamber “Of The People” and the concept of having an pre-anointed person choosing “For The People” would have been unacceptable. The US Senate was originally a representative body “Of The States.” In contrast to the current procedure, under the original Constitution, the Senators were always chosen “For The People” by their State legislature, and unexpected vacancies were always filled by the Governor. The State legislature did not have the power to stop the Governor from exercising this power or overriding his judgment, just as the people could not stop the legislature from choosing their US Senators.

    I do agree that the America of today is different that the America of yesterday, and as such the historical context can be dismissed as antiquated or obsolete. However, I hold that, even if all the historical and symbolic arguments are dismissed as irrelevant, the weight of the other supporting arguments would be more than sufficient to support leaving the 17th Amendment as is. In addition, the historical issue of the House of Representatives being the body “Of The People,” and therefore untouchable by the powers that be, is also antiquated because today’s Constitution holds that all of our representatives, except the Judiciary, is elected “By The People” – I concede that the President is elected in a moderately indirect method, but in practice, the President is still elected nonetheless. (I disagree with the College of Electors, but that is a different topic.)

    I also understand that due to our highly partisan political atmosphere, having a Governor choose for the people may be contrary to the will of the people in some instances. However, in those few instances, the people can make their voices heard in their State legislature, which is empowered to unseat the Governor’s appointee simply by holding a special election at any time it sees fit.

    While I would like to give some examples of the highly important situations in which a single Senator’s vote; or non-vote by absence; can make a huge far-reaching impact, the list would be too long. Instead, I ask you the reader to imagine some of the more divisive issues that separate the two major political parties in the context of the powers granted to the US Senate:

    – All Executive and Judicial appointments must pass through the US Senate and once appointed cannot be removed without impeachment.
    – All Declarations of War or Peace and every treaty with foreign nations must pass through the US Senate.
    – Every law enacted or repealed, as well as Congress’ ability to overturn Executive Orders and Executive Branch Regulations must pass through the US Senate.
    – All matters of Federal Impeachments must be decided on by the US Senate.
    – And the only method which has to date been used to amend the US Constitution must go through the US Senate.

    After reviewing the duties and powers of the US Senate and considering the highly polarized positions of the two major parties and including the very balanced proportions of the US Senate in the past and present, it should be obvious that permitting an emergency appointment to the US Senate is in the best interests of “We The People.”

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