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Commentary Detail

Filling Congressional Seats: No Logic Required
Commentary by: Tom Schlafly
Aired April 13, 2009

The election last November left two vacancies in Illinois's congressional delegation: Barack Obama's seat in the Senate and Rahm Emmanuel's seat in the House of Representatives. Logic would dictate that these vacancies be filled the same way. Logic, however, is not the same as reality.

The Constitution requires that vacancies in the House of Representatives be filled by elections. It also calls for elections to fill vacancies in the Senate, but it allows state legislatures to authorize governors to make temporary appointments until an election can be held.

In practice, states generally ignore the constitutional language about filling vacancies in the Senate with elections. Governors, not the people, make the decision.

Those who are not members of the same party as the governor are routinely ignored in the process of choosing senators to fill vacancies. Even members of the governor's own party can also feel excluded and are sometimes very unhappy about senate appointments, as is currently the case in both Illinois and New York.

It doesn't have to be this way. Missouri should heed the cautionary tales of Illinois and New York. Our general assembly should remove the governor's authority to fill vacancies in the U.S. Senate. If elections are appropriate to fill vacancies in one house of Congress, why shouldn't they be used to fill vacancies in the other house? Senators chosen in free and open elections are bound to have more legitimacy among members of both political parties than those chosen as a result of gubernatorial favoritism.

(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)

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Tom Schlafly

Tom Schlafly


Tom Schlafly is an attorney in St. Louis.

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