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United States Senate

Upper house of the United States Congress

Top 10 United States Senate related articles

Coordinates: 38°53′26″N 77°0′32″W / 38.89056°N 77.00889°W / 38.89056; -77.00889

United States Senate
117th United States Congress
Flag of the U.S. Senate
Type
Type
Term limits
None
History
New session started
January 3, 2021 (2021-01-03)
Leadership
Patrick Leahy (D)
since January 20, 2021
Chuck Schumer (D)
since January 20, 2021
Mitch McConnell (R)
since January 20, 2021
Dick Durbin (D)
since January 20, 2021
John Thune (R)
since January 20, 2021
Structure
Seats100
51 (or 50 plus the Vice President) for a majority
Political groups
Majority (50)[a]

Minority (50)

Length of term
6 years
Elections
Plurality voting in 46 states[c]
Varies in 4 states
Last election
November 3, 2020[d] (35 seats)
Next election
November 8, 2022 (34 seats)
Meeting place
Senate Chamber
United States Capitol
Washington, D.C.
United States
Website
senate.gov
Constitution
United States Constitution
Rules
Standing Rules of the United States Senate

The United States Senate is the upper chamber of the United States Congress, with the House of Representatives being the lower chamber. Together they compose the national bicameral legislature of the United States.

The composition and powers of the Senate are established by Article One of the United States Constitution.[2] The Senate is composed of senators, each of whom represents a single state in its entirety. Each state is equally represented by two senators who serve staggered terms of six years. There are currently 100 senators representing the 50 states. The vice president of the United States serves as presiding officer and president of the Senate by virtue of that office, and has a vote only if the senators are equally divided. In the vice president's absence, the president pro tempore, who is traditionally the senior member of the party holding a majority of seats, presides over the Senate.

As the upper chamber of Congress, the Senate has several powers of advice and consent which are unique to it. These include the approval of treaties, and the confirmation of Cabinet secretaries, Supreme Court justices, federal judges, flag officers, regulatory officials, ambassadors, other federal executive officials and federal uniformed officers. If no candidate receives a majority of electors for vice president, the duty falls to the Senate to elect one of the top two recipients of electors for that office. The Senate conducts trials of those impeached by the House.

The Senate is widely considered both a more deliberative[3] and more prestigious[4][5][6] body than the House of Representatives due to its longer terms, smaller size, and statewide constituencies, which historically led to a more collegial and less partisan atmosphere.[7]

From 1789 to 1913, senators were appointed by legislatures of the states they represented. They are now elected by popular vote following the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913. In the early 20th century, the practice of majority and minority parties electing their floor leaders began. The Senate's legislative and executive business is managed and scheduled by the Senate majority leader.

The Senate chamber is located in the north wing of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

United States Senate Intro articles: 44

History

The drafters of the Constitution created a bicameral Congress primarily as a compromise between those who felt that each state, since it was sovereign, should be equally represented, and those who felt the legislature must directly represent the people, as the House of Commons did in Great Britain. This idea of having one chamber represent people equally, while the other gives equal representation to states regardless of population, was known as the Connecticut Compromise. There was also a desire to have two Houses that could act as an internal check on each other. One was intended to be a "People's House" directly elected by the people, and with short terms obliging the representatives to remain close to their constituents. The other was intended to represent the states to such extent as they retained their sovereignty except for the powers expressly delegated to the national government. The Constitution provides that the approval of both chambers is necessary for the passage of legislation.[8]

First convened in 1789, the Senate of the United States was formed on the example of the ancient Roman Senate. The name is derived from the senatus, Latin for council of elders (from senex meaning old man in Latin).[9]

James Madison made the following comment about the Senate:

In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations remain just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The Senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, the people ought to have permanency and stability.[10]

— Notes of the Secret Debates of the Federal Convention of 1787

Article Five of the Constitution stipulates that no constitutional amendment may be created to deprive a state of its equal suffrage in the Senate without that state's consent. The District of Columbia and all other territories are not entitled to representation or allowed to vote in either house of Congress. They have official non-voting delegates in the House of Representatives, but none in the Senate. The District of Columbia and Puerto Rico each additionally elect two "shadow senators", but they are officials of their respective local governments and not members of the U.S. Senate.[11] The United States has had 50 states since 1959,[12] thus the Senate has had 100 senators since 1959.[8]

Graph showing historical party control of the U.S. Senate, House and Presidency since 1855[13]

The disparity between the most and least populous states has grown since the Connecticut Compromise, which granted each state two members of the Senate and at least one member of the House of Representatives, for a total minimum of three presidential electors, regardless of population. In 1787, Virginia had roughly ten times the population of Rhode Island, whereas today California has roughly 70 times the population of Wyoming, based on the 1790 and 2000 censuses. Before the adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, senators were elected by the individual state legislatures.[14] Problems with repeated vacant seats due to the inability of a legislature to elect senators, intrastate political struggles, bribery and intimidation gradually led to a growing movement to amend the Constitution to allow for the direct election of senators.[15]

United States Senate History articles: 14

Current composition and election results

Members of the United States Senate for the 117th Congress

Current party standings

The party composition of the Senate during the 117th Congress:

Affiliation Members
Republican 50
Democratic 48
Independents 2[b]
Total 100

Membership

Qualifications

Article I, Section 3, of the Constitution, sets three qualifications for senators: (1) they must be at least 30 years old; (2) they must have been citizens of the United States for at least nine years; and (3) they must be inhabitants of the states they seek to represent at the time of their election. The age and citizenship qualifications for senators are more stringent than those for representatives. In Federalist No. 62, James Madison justified this arrangement by arguing that the "senatorial trust" called for a "greater extent of information and stability of character".

The Senate (not the judiciary) is the sole judge of a senator's qualifications. During its early years, however, the Senate did not closely scrutinize the qualifications of its members. As a result, four senators who failed to meet the age requirement were nevertheless admitted to the Senate: Henry Clay (aged 29 in 1806), John Jordan Crittenden (aged 29 in 1817), Armistead Thomson Mason (aged 28 in 1816), and John Eaton (aged 28 in 1818). Such an occurrence, however, has not been repeated since.[16] In 1934, Rush D. Holt Sr. was elected to the Senate at the age of 29; he waited until he turned 30 (on the next June 19) to take the oath of office. In November 1972, Joe Biden was elected to the Senate at the age of 29, but he reached his 30th birthday before the swearing-in ceremony for incoming senators in January 1973.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution disqualifies as senators any federal or state officers who had taken the requisite oath to support the Constitution but who later engaged in rebellion or aided the enemies of the United States. This provision, which came into force soon after the end of the Civil War, was intended to prevent those who had sided with the Confederacy from serving. That Amendment, however, also provides a method to remove that disqualification: a two-thirds vote of both chambers of Congress.

Elections and term

Originally, senators were selected by the state legislatures, not by popular elections. By the early years of the 20th century, the legislatures of as many as 29 states had provided for popular election of senators by referendums.[15] Popular election to the Senate was standardized nationally in 1913 by the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment.

Term

Senators serve terms of six years each; the terms are staggered so that approximately one-third of the seats are up for election every two years. This was achieved by dividing the senators of the 1st Congress into thirds (called classes), where the terms of one-third expired after two years, the terms of another third expired after four, and the terms of the last third expired after six years. This arrangement was also followed after the admission of new states into the union. The staggering of terms has been arranged such that both seats from a given state are not contested in the same general election, except when a vacancy is being filled. Current senators whose six-year terms are set to expire on January 3, 2023, belong to Class III. There is no constitutional limit to the number of terms a senator may serve.

The Constitution set the date for Congress to convene — Article 1, Section 4, Clause 2, originally set that date for the third day of December. The Twentieth Amendment, however, changed the opening date for sessions to noon on the third day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day. The Twentieth Amendment also states that the Congress shall assemble at least once every year, and allows the Congress to determine its convening and adjournment dates and other dates and schedules as it desires. Article 1, Section 3, provides that the president has the power to convene Congress on extraordinary occasions at his discretion.[17]

A member who has been elected, but not yet seated, is called a senator-elect; a member who has been appointed to a seat, but not yet seated, is called a senator-designate.

Elections

Elections to the Senate are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in even-numbered years, Election Day, and coincide with elections for the House of Representatives.[18] Senators are elected by their state as a whole. The Elections Clause of the United States Constitution grants each state (and Congress, if it so desires to implement a uniform law) the power to legislate a method by which senators are elected. Ballot access rules for independent and minor party candidates also vary from state to state.

In 45 states, a primary election is held first for the Republican and Democratic parties (and a select few third parties, depending on the state) with the general election following a few months later. In most of these states, the nominee may receive only a plurality, while in some states, a runoff is required if no majority was achieved. In the general election, the winner is the candidate who receives a plurality of the popular vote.

However, in five states, different methods are used. In Georgia, a runoff between the top two candidates occurs if the plurality winner in the general election does not also win a majority. In Washington, California, and Louisiana, a nonpartisan blanket primary (also known as a "jungle primary" or "top-two primary") is held in which all candidates participate in a single primary regardless of party affiliation and the top two candidates in terms of votes received at the primary election advance to the general election, where the winner is the candidate with the greater number of votes. In Louisiana, the blanket primary is considered the general election and the winner of the blanket primary can win the overall election if he or she received a majority of the vote, skipping the run-off. In Maine, following two ballot initiatives in 2016 and 2018, ranked-choice voting is used to nominate and elect candidates for federal offices, including the Senate. Alaska voted in November 2020 to adopt a system with a nonpartisan blanket primary from which four candidates would advance to a general election in which ranked-choice voting would be used.[19]

Vacancies

The Seventeenth Amendment requires that vacancies in the Senate be filled by special election. Whenever a senator must be appointed or elected, the secretary of the Senate mails one of three forms to the state's governor to inform them of the proper wording to certify the appointment of a new senator.[20] If a special election for one seat happens to coincide with a general election for the state's other seat, each seat is contested separately. A senator elected in a special election takes office as soon as possible after the election and serves until the original six-year term expires (i.e. not for a full-term).

The Seventeenth Amendment permits state legislatures to empower their governors to make temporary appointments until the required special election takes place.

The manner by which the Seventeenth Amendment is enacted varies among the states. A 2018 report breaks this down into the following three broad categories (specific procedures vary among the states):[21]

  • Five states – North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin – do not empower their governors to make temporary appointments, relying exclusively on the required special election provision in the Seventeenth Amendment.[21]:7–8
  • Nine states – Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Texas, Vermont, and Washington – provide for gubernatorial appointments, but also require a special election on an accelerated schedule.[21]:10–11
  • The remaining thirty-six states provide for gubernatorial appointments, "with the appointed senator serving the balance of the term or until the next statewide general election".[21]:8–9

In six states within the final category above – Arizona, Hawaii, Maryland, North Carolina, Utah, and Wyoming – the governor must appoint someone of the same political party as the previous incumbent.[21]:9

In September 2009, Massachusetts changed its law to enable the governor to appoint a temporary replacement for the late senator Edward Kennedy until the special election in January 2010.[22][23]

In 2004, Alaska enacted legislation and a separate ballot referendum that took effect on the same day, but that conflicted with each other. The effect of the ballot-approved law is to withhold from the governor authority to appoint a senator.[24] Because the 17th Amendment vests the power to grant that authority to the legislature – not the people or the state generally – it is unclear whether the ballot measure supplants the legislature's statute granting that authority.[24] As a result, it is uncertain whether an Alaska governor may appoint an interim senator to serve until a special election is held to fill the vacancy.

Oath

The Constitution requires that senators take an oath or affirmation to support the Constitution.[25] Congress has prescribed the following oath for all federal officials (except the President), including senators:

I, ___ ___, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.[26]

Salary and benefits

The annual salary of each senator, since 2009, is $174,000;[27] the president pro tempore and party leaders receive $193,400.[27][28] In June 2003, at least 40 senators were millionaires;[29] in 2018, over 50 senators were millionaires.[30]

Along with earning salaries, senators receive retirement and health benefits that are identical to other federal employees, and are fully vested after five years of service.[28] Senators are covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) or Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). FERS has been the Senate's retirement system since January 1, 1987, while CSRS applies only for those senators who were in the Senate from December 31, 1986, and prior. As it is for federal employees, congressional retirement is funded through taxes and the participants' contributions. Under FERS, senators contribute 1.3% of their salary into the FERS retirement plan and pay 6.2% of their salary in Social Security taxes. The amount of a senator's pension depends on the years of service and the average of the highest three years of their salary. The starting amount of a senator's retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of their final salary. In 2006, the average annual pension for retired senators and representatives under CSRS was $60,972, while those who retired under FERS, or in combination with CSRS, was $35,952.[28]

Seniority

According to the convention of Senate seniority, the senator with the longer tenure in each state is known as the "senior senator"; the other is the "junior senator". This convention does not have official significance, though seniority generally is a factor in the selection of physical offices and in party caucuses' assignment of committees.[31] In the 117th Congress, the most-senior "junior senator" is Maria Cantwell of Washington, who was sworn in on January 3, 2001, and is currently 16th in seniority, behind Patty Murray who was sworn in on January 3, 1993, and is currently 6th in seniority. The most-junior "senior senator" is Jon Ossoff of Georgia, who was sworn in on January 20, 2021, and is 99th in seniority, ahead of Raphael Warnock, who was sworn in on the same day.

Expulsion and other disciplinary actions

The Senate may expel a senator by a two-thirds vote. Fifteen senators have been expelled in the Senate's history: William Blount, for treason, in 1797, and fourteen in 1861 and 1862 for supporting the Confederate secession. Although no senator has been expelled since 1862, many senators have chosen to resign when faced with expulsion proceedings – for example, Bob Packwood in 1995. The Senate has also censured and condemned senators; censure requires only a simple majority and does not remove a senator from office. Some senators have opted to withdraw from their re-election races rather than face certain censure or expulsion, such as Robert Torricelli in 2002.

United States Senate Membership articles: 177