Feingold Introduces Amendment Banning Senatorial Appointments

Former Ill. Attorney General Roland Burris, right, takes questions after Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced Burris as his choice to fill President-elect Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008 in Chicago.(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
Former Ill. Attorney General Roland Burris, right, takes questions after Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced Burris as his choice to fill President-elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008 in Chicago.(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

Senator Russ Feingold has announced that he is introducing a Constitutional Amendment that would require states to hold a special election in the event of a Senate vacancy, rather than having a gubernatorial appointment.

“The controversies surrounding some of the recent gubernatorial appointments to vacant Senate seats make it painfully clear that such appointments are an anachronism that must end. In 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution gave the citizens of this country the power to finally elect their senators. They should have the same power in the case of unexpected mid term vacancies, so that the Senate is as responsive as possible to the will of the people. 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.”

I’m definitely behind this and, indeed, this is already the process used to fill House vacancies. There’s no real compelling reason to allow the governor of a state to appoint a Senate vacancy save for the sheer inertia of tradition. Here’s hoping this sails through.

(link via Steven Taylor)

FILED UNDER: Congress, Law and the Courts, US Politics, , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    Wouldn’t it be easier, and better for the country if Democrats were to start putting up people of honor for high office?

    One wonders what Feingold’s solution to Charlie Rangel is, other than simply ignoring the problem.

  2. Wayne says:

    It is one more example of the Federal Government attempting to acquire more power. I believe States should hold special elections but it should be up to the States. The Federal government has chip away State powers so much that the original intent of our founders of not having a powerful overbearing Central government has been reverse.

  3. JKB says:

    Well, let’s see. First the Senators and Congressmen who represent the States must pass the amendment, then 38 of the State legislatures have to ratify this gross incursion into their Constitutional domain. Yeah, that’ll fly right through.

    However, making it an issue might cause those State legislatures to implement the change themselves and retake the Constitutional authority to choose Senators for their state. It just won’t be some federally imposed requirement to deal with corrupt Democrat governors.

  4. Aside from some very abstract notion of “states’ rights” it is unclear to me how this is some massive incursion in to the power of the states. You people talk as if states are something other than places were people (i.e., citizens, voters, etc.) live. Who better to know how best to represent the interests of that state than the people in that state? Where is the state being disempowered? The only person being disempowered is the governor of the given state–and how that damages the state itself is beyond me.

    Indeed, how we can talk about the interest of a state apart from the interests of its citizens is beyond me.

    And Bit: you mean highly ethical nominations like a father nominating his daughter to take his seat? While the Murkowski situation in Alaska was nothing like what Blago tried to pull, it hardly ranks as a move that showered honor on those involved. Senate seats ought not be family heirlooms. And if Lisa had wanted the seat, and the people of Alaska had wanted her to have it, then she should have run for it in the first place rather than having the advantages of incumbency at her disposal before running for it.

    Everything isn’t about Rep/Dem–sometimes (usually) it is about the right thing to do.

  5. Michael says:

    Sounds like the logical conclusion of the 17th amendment.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    The reason not to hold a statewide special election is expense and the expense probably isn’t worth it the shorter the remaining term to fill. I’m decidedly ambivalent and more interested in a Constitutional amendment to ban gerrymandering.

  7. Eric says:

    Wouldn’t it be easier, and better for the country if Democrats were to start putting up people of honor for high office?Wouldn’t it be easier, and better for the country if Democrats were to start putting up people of honor for high office?

    Yes, because, as we all know, Republicans are beyond reproach. Why, the 2000-2006 Congress was squeaky clean. Oops:

    Click here to see how squeaky clean Republicans are.

    By my count, that’s 18 Republicans under investigation/indictment/conviction versus 6 Democrats. But I see Larry Craig isn’t currently on the list for some reason; and you can probably add Norm Coleman to that list to make 20. What are other Republicans am I missing?

    Bit, I bet you can’t even see how utterly inane your assertion is, can you? Never a dull moment with you nutties.

  8. Eric says:
  9. PD Shaw says:

    You people talk as if states are something other than places were people (i.e., citizens, voters, etc.) live. Who better to know how best to represent the interests of that state than the people in that state?

    This strikes me as circular. The people of most states want their Governor to appoint the replacement. We live in a republic — most of our decision-making is made by authorized representatives. Who better to know how the people of a given state want replacements picked than the people of that state?

    I think the argument for the Amendment has to rely not just on deciding that one method of selection is always better than another, but that the people of other states are adversely impacted by the selection method of other states. Maybe Illinois and New York make that argument. Its arguable though that the Governors of Illinois and New York might have picked better candidates than would an election.

  10. Drew says:

    Enough of these high minded comments……just look at the enetertainment value they provide.

  11. just me says:

    I like the idea, and he is using the right process, and as a voter I can honestly say just because I might like the democratic guy running for governor and give him my vote, I may not necessarily want him choosing a democrat to be my senator if for some reason one of my senators can’t finish their term.

    I would like to see short term appointments while the special election is organized, and I think it may be more cost effective if special elections can be merged with other state elections during their election cycle, but there is no reason it should take more than a year to hold a special election to fill a vacated seat. I think it would restore some integrity to the process, and it would make the governors picks a little less corruptable.

  12. Bithead says:

    Well, look, let’s take inventory, shall we?

    of what we’ve got so far, out of Obama’s promises of transparency. We’ve got lobby types running HHS and Defense. We’ve got a Tax cheat running the IRS. We’ve got a man who is documented as having lied under oath running the Justice Dept.

    We have a billion or so dollars of ‘stimulatio’ which as it turns out is outright fraud, with large chunks of it going to ACORN.

    On the fifth day of the Obama administration, Senior staffers are being issued federal subpoenas. Fits, doesn’t it?

    Meanwhile, Wiliam Jefferson and Charlie Rangel go on and on… their criminality unchecked by any sort of investigation, much less a fair one.

    Then we notice the government protection being afforded Obama’s aunt. Keeping the press away, apparently.

    We’re in record cold. Yet Al Gore is going to the Senate this week to talk about Global Warming. Obama is calling for stricter standards on auto emissions…. to combat global warming. He’s also calling for higher cafe standards.Again, to combat global warming. All ignoring of course the actual evdience. Oh… and if Obama is really concerned about jobs, and saving the auto indurstries, shouldn’t he be looking at what’s happened to jobs in this country every time the CAFE standards havegone up? That’s right, kiddies, we lose jobs every time we give into this Gore Squeeze. So, guess where this thing is going now?

    anymore. Gee, wonder why?
    Meanwhile, we’re well on our way to nationalizing banks… and everything else with it. Yet, the banks we’re snapping up appear to be using their money for other things. I”ve long since started to wonder who really won the cold war, after all.

    I do have to say in all fairness, the Obama administration is really coming along. It took even Bill and Hilalry Clinton, arguably the dirtiest pols to come along in dacdes, a full year to look this dirty. Obama nd his gang managed to get to that point, in less than a week.

    Progress!

    And now, to top all of that off, we find that Patterson’s choice for Clinton’s former Senate Seat was influenced unduly by the WH, and that there are some serious games being played there, too… enough to enrage the Kennedy Clan against Obama. By definition, there’s political backstabbing going on if TK is THAT miffed.

    I’ll say this for Democrats… they’re entertaining.

  13. Eric says:

    Holy %$#%%^. Bit is in full Wingnut! Get ready for reality-denying, head-buried-in-the-sand, out-of-touch, Area 51 alien, Sasquatch sighting, Elvis is still alive FULL. WINGNUT. GLORY!!

    Quick, everyone! Grab some popcorn and turn down the lights. The show’s started!

  14. Wayne says:

    “You people talk as if states are something other than places were people (i.e., citizens, voters, etc.) live”

    That is like saying countries are just places where people live. States are much more than that including a sovereign territory with common laws and practices. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State Even States within the United States varies a great deal.

    Would the Federal government taking over the Senatorial process be a massive incursion? Not really but it is another example of erosion of state right’s. Just like any erosion over a short time, it doesn’t appear significant but over a long period of time it does.

    Not to put too much value in any book especially a fictional one but if anyone read “the Farm” they would know large changes can be done one letter at a time. History has plenty of examples when a country starts off with one set of ideals but given enough time it reverses those ideals and usually in up corrupted just like the government that they overturn.

    “Indeed, how we can talk about the interest of a state apart from the interests of its citizens is beyond me.”

    Research Stalin. The State and its people are to different entities. It works best when the State looks after the people not the other way around. Also having a representative government doesn’t mean the government represent the people. Case in point is the last Presidential election. I didn’t see anyone even during the primary that I was impress with. Castro’s Cuba is another example.

  15. tom p says:

    Holy %$#%%^. Bit is in full Wingnut! Get ready for reality-denying, head-buried-in-the-sand, out-of-touch, Area 51 alien, Sasquatch sighting, Elvis is still alive FULL. WINGNUT. GLORY!!

    Quick, everyone! Grab some popcorn and turn down the lights. The show’s started!

    Sorry Eric, the show is over. From here on out, it is just reruns.

  16. tom p says:

    We have a billion or so dollars of ‘stimulatio’ which as it turns out is outright fraud, with large chunks of it going to ACORN.

    and bit, can you make it any more obvious?

  17. tom p says:

    Meanwhile, Wiliam Jefferson and Charlie Rangel go on and on… their criminality unchecked by any sort of investigation, much less a fair one.

    Gee bit, I can not help but notice that you do not make note of Coleman, Vitter and Craig… coincidence? I think NOT.

  18. tom p says:

    Not to put too much value in any book especially a fictional one but if anyone read “the Farm” they would know large changes can be done one letter at a time. History has plenty of examples when a country starts off with one set of ideals but given enough time it reverses those ideals and usually in(ends) up corrupted just like the government that they overturn.

    Or maybe, one OLC opinion at a time?

  19. The people of most states want their Governor to appoint the replacement.

    And how do we know this to be the case?

    We live in a republic — most of our decision-making is made by authorized representatives. Who better to know how the people of a given state want replacements picked than the people of that state?

    1) There is no difference in any practical sense between a “republic” as you are using the term and “democracy” in a modern sense–i.e., in both cases the power comes from the citizens/voters.

    2) Given that the authorized representatives get their power from the voters, why not just let them pick their new Senator rather than having the decision go through a middle-man (i.e., the governor).

    It makes no sense.

  20. davod says:

    “Aside from some very abstract notion of “states’ rights” ”

    We live in a Republic. States rights should not be abstract. The states came together to create the United States, not the other way round.

    I would be surprised if many states will accept this constitutional amendment.

    As it is this is a solution in search of a problem. The Governor of a State is elected by the voters in the state. As Governor he governs for the voters. If the Governor nominates`someone to fill a senate vacancy the voters are speaking.

  21. PD Shaw says:

    And how do we know this to be the case?

    Because most states have passed laws giving the Governor the power to pick the replacement. These laws have probably been on the books for decades.

    Who better to know how the people of a given state want replacements picked than the people of that state?

    Who better to decide the best tax rate than the people of the state or whether a new medical program should be added? At some point, you draw the line btw/ what we are going to decide by vote and what the people elected by votes get to decide.

    Given that the authorized representatives get their power from the voters, why not just let them pick their new Senator rather than having the decision go through a middle-man (i.e., the governor).

    Money, time and convenience has a lot to do with it. Living in Illinois, I’ve found the arguments back and forth on this to be . . . well not edifying, but not without merit. Quick special elections tend to favor people with high name recognition. Long special elections leave the state without representation. Balancing these, and other issues, involve trade-offs. And it’s not necessarily clear to me that Wisconsin is the font of all wisdom in these matters.

  22. davod says:

    “And Bit: you mean highly ethical nominations like a father nominating his daughter to take his seat? While the Murkowski situation in Alaska was nothing like what Blago tried to pull, it hardly ranks as a move that showered honor on those involved.”

    I just checked Senator Murkowski’s Bio. She does seem to have done a little bit more than sit at home waiting for daddy to call. She was also elected for a six year term in 2004.

    “MURKOWSKI, Lisa, (daughter of Frank Hughes Murkowski), a Senator from Alaska; born in Ketchikan, Alaska, on May 22, 1957; attended public schools in Fairbanks, AK; attended Williamette University in Salem, Oregon, 1975-1977; B.A. in Economics, Georgetown University 1980; J.D., Willamette College of Law 1985; attorney; member, Alaska Bar Association; Anchorage District Court attorney 1987-1989; private practice 1989-1996; Mayor’s Task Force on the Homeless 1990-1991; Anchorage Equal Rights Commission 1997-1998; Alaska State house of representatives 1999-2002; appointed to the U.S. Senate on December 20, 2002, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of her father, Frank H. Murkowski; elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004 for term ending January 3, 2011.”

  23. Research Stalin. The State and its people are to different entities. It works best when the State looks after the people not the other way around. Also having a representative government doesn’t mean the government represent the people. Case in point is the last Presidential election. I didn’t see anyone even during the primary that I was impress with. Castro’s Cuba is another example.

    Ok, so my position is that it would be better for Senate seats vacancies to be filled by popular election of the citizens who will be represented and your position it is that it is better for one person to get to do and yet you are somehow tossing Stalin and Castro out as though they vitiate my position?

    And since you weren’t impressed by any of the primary candidates, that means voting isn’t a representative act?

    That is some odd reasoning.

    Would the Federal government taking over the Senatorial process be a massive incursion? Not really but it is another example of erosion of state right’s. Just like any erosion over a short time, it doesn’t appear significant but over a long period of time it does.

    You do realize that Senators are federal offices, the selection of which is currently regulated by the federal constitution, yes? Beyond that, you are aware that Senators are currently selected via popular vote, yes? And the proposed amendment would simply put that system in place in case of vacancies, yes?

    Nice appeal to Wikipedia, btw: that always impresses.

  24. We live in a Republic. States rights should not be abstract.

    I will admit, that this is a pet peeve of mine, but I really don’t think that you (and others in this thread) have any idea what you actually mean when you say “we live in a Republic.”

    There is absolutely nothing about the existence of states in our system that really has much of anything to do with being a “republic” (which can mean many things, but mainly in this context means sovereign power derived from the citizenry).

    Yes, we have federalism, but that is not in any way an inherent state of being for a republic. We could still be a republic and erase all the state boundaries and have a unitary state (like, say, France, which is also a republic, and yet has centralized policy-making in the national government).

    It is true that we do not have a direct democracy where everyone votes on everything–such a creature really has never existed. Instead, we have a representative democracy, sometimes called an indirect democracy, sometimes called a republican democracy, but in basic terms is rightly called simply democracy.

    But even if I concede that “we are a Republic” that has nothing to do with what powers should, or should not, belong in the hands of states.

  25. I just checked Senator Murkowski’s Bio. She does seem to have done a little bit more than sit at home waiting for daddy to call. She was also elected for a six year term in 2004.

    davod,

    The issue is not whether she was qualified. The issue is whether or not it is kosher for daddy to be able to simply hand his Senate over to his daughter. Why it wouldn’t be preferable to allow the voters to make this decision is a mystery to me.

  26. And yes, Murkowski was elected in her own right, but she did so WITH THE ADVANTAGE OF BEING THE INCUMBENT BECAUSE SHE WAS GIVEN THE SEAT.

    You do understand that that is a rather substantial advantage, yes?

  27. Michael says:

    The question boils down to “Who does a Senator represent?”

    Prior to the 17th amendment, he was a representative of the state government within the federal government. Thus the reason why every state has an equal number of Senators, because every state is equal in the union, regardless of size.

    After the 17th amendment, he became a representative of the people of a certain geographic region that varied in size from Senator to Senator, thus making the proportion of votes in the Senator to constituents of the Senator unequal. The result of this is to say that the entire population of Rhode Island is equal to the entire population of California

    Today, for better of for worse, a Senator is a representative of the population of their state, not of the state government itself, so having their replacements elected by the population and not by the government is hardly a new infraction on the rights of the state. Like I said at the beginning of this thread, this is the logical conclusion of the 17th amendment.

  28. davod says:

    “Like I said at the beginning of this thread, this is the logical conclusion of the 17th amendment.”

    Bullshit.

    why not cancel government and have the people fight over how to run the state or country.

  29. davod says:

    Michael: What are you talking about.
    Read he following. There are still two Senators per state. The number of people per state is irrelevant.

    AMENDMENT XVII
    Passed by Congress May 13, 1912. Ratified April 8, 1913.

    Note: Article I, section 3, of the Constitution was modified by the 17th 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.

  30. Michael says:

    davod,
    I don’t see where exactly you are disagreeing with me. The 17th amendment took the power of appointment of Senators from the state legislatures and gave it directly to the citizens of the states, with the exception of filling vacancies.

    Feingold’s proposal is merely to remove that exception, it doesn’t substantially change the nature of the Senate or the rights of state governments.

    And on a more personal note, when I bring up something like an amendment, specifically by number, in the course of an argument, you can safely assume that I am familiar with it’s content.

  31. bob in fla says:

    Well, I did a good job pissing off a few people at some lefty blogs. Guess it’s time to do it again here.

    The Senate was set up to represent the states, as opposed to the people, in the Constitution. Sorry, Steve. There is a difference. Prior to the Constitution, the individual states were essentially individual countries; the Federal government was very much like NATO, w/o executive or judicial branches or even their own army. The Federal government had no authority over the individual states until after the Constitution was ratified; all authority, finances, even their armies were supplied by the states through the Continental Congress. Because the House of Representatives overwhelmingly favored the large population states, the Senate was set up to equalize the smaller states’ power somewhat.

    In spite of the 17th Amendment, individual states still have the right to chose how their vacant Senate seats are filled. I believe it should remain that way, but reasonable people can disagree.

    Now if we can only be reasonable when dooing so. . .

  32. From the department of colossally good ideas (aka Congress)…

    Steven Taylor, Nate Silver, and Alex Knapp are all on-board with an amendment proposed by Sen. Russ Feingold to the U.S. Constitution to strip governors of their power to make long-term “temporary” appointments to the Senate. Since Feingold hasn’…

  33. Joe R. says:

    I haven’t seen the proponents of the special election address the expense concerns. In other circumstances, conservatives would be calling this an “unfunded mandate”.

    I agree that the gubernatorial appointment system is far from perfect, but it’s not immediately obvious to me that an election would produce a significantly different result. A special election in Illinois would have led to a Democrat senator who would vote for the caucus 90+% of the time. Why blow millions of dollars to achieve the same result as the one we have? Just to make people feel better?

    Perhaps a better system would be to keep the seat empty until the next scheduled election, thereby discouraging senators from running for president. It would have saved us from a few horrid options last year.

  34. Michael says:

    I haven’t seen the proponents of the special election address the expense concerns.

    Those concerns are a red herring because House vacancies already require a special election to fill. If it’s too expensive for a Senate seat, it would presumably be too expensive for a House seat, which are more numerous and would likely be vacant more often.

    Perhaps a better system would be to keep the seat empty until the next scheduled election

    Thereby leaving the unfortunate state with only half the representation of every other state in the Senate.

  35. Bithead says:

    Gee bit, I can not help but notice that you do not make note of Coleman, Vitter and Craig… coincidence? I think NOT.

    Coleman? What’d he do, other than present serious challange to Franken?

    And as for Vitter and Craig, they’re already dealt with, their fate secured. Unlike Johnson and Rangel, for example.

    Can you be any more obvious? I think not.

  36. tom p says:

    Coleman? What’d he do, other than present serious challange to Franken?

    Hmmmm, Bit… do you read the news?

    Can you be any more obvious? I think not.

    Well bit, you are the one who picks his demons from only one side of the aisle, not me.

  37. Michael says:

    Coleman? What’d he do, other than present serious challange to Franken?

    He was accused of ethics violations for taking vacations and discounted rent from companies seeking his favor. He was also tied (indirectly) to Ted Steven’s money troubles.

    He’s not squeaky clean, but it wasn’t like there was $90k in cash in his freezer either.

  38. Wayne says:

    Steve
    “And since you weren’t impressed by any of the primary candidates, that means voting isn’t a representative act?”

    No, it means that just because you get to vote for a candidate doesn’t necessarily mean it is a representative government. If you a limited on who you get to vote for because of strong arm tactics of a leader, media, or a broken political machine that limit who can viably run for office then it is not a representative government. Obama spent at least a good portion of a billion dollar on running for president. Not to mention what the advocacy groups and MSM spent on supporting him. A person who is not part of a political system simply would have s snowball chance in hell to do that.

    As I already stated I support special election. For you to pretend I make claims about you for supporting that is way off base. My problem with you on this issue is you want to take away the State’s right to choose how they fill an empty vacancy. Stalin came up because your statement that I listed sounded like you think that state interest and people interest are one and the same. Simply not true.

    As for the Senate being a federal office, I think davod already cover that.