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« Melancon Enters La. Senate Race | Blog Home Page | Christie's Curious Response »

New Focus On Senate Succession Practices

The death of Sen. Kennedy has brought a renewed push to amend Massachusetts' law governing Senate vacancies, for the second time in five years. Gov. Deval Patrick (D) indicated yesterday that he now would support legislation allowing him to appoint an interim replacement while still calling a special election within five months.

Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) reportedly may appoint a replacement for Mel Martinez this week. That appointment has been complicated by politics as well, given his own candidacy for the seat in 2010. Add to these cases the controversy over the appointment of Roland Burris by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and you understand why there's an effort being led by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) to amend the Constitution to strip governors of their appointment power altogether and require special elections across the nation.

Governors historically have had this power based on the initial method of electing senators in the first place -- in the state legislatures. According to the Congressional Research Service:

This practice originated with the constitutional provision that applied prior to the popular election of senators, under which governors were directed to make temporary appointments when state legislatures were in recess. It was intended to ensure continuity in a state's Senate representation during the lengthy intervals between state legislative sessions.

Several states already require special elections, and others have moved in recent years to restrict the governor's power by requiring him or her to appoint someone from a particular party. After the jump, see the latest breakdown of state rules for filling vacancies, based on a March report from the Congressional Research Service.

States Where Governors Have Unrestricted Appointment Power:
Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia.

States That May Require Special Elections, But Allow Governors To Make Temporary Appointments:
Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Texas, Vermont, Washington

States With Special Requirements About Who A Governor Can Appoint:
Arizona: Governor must appoint a senator from the same party as the previous occupant.
Hawaii, Utah, Wyoming: Governor appoints a senator from a list of candidates submitted by the party of the previous occupant.

States That Fill Vacancies Only Through Special Elections
Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Oregon, Wisconsin

There are many caveats even within these four broad categories. For instance, states that call for "special elections" have different requirements for how soon those special elections should take place, from as soon as 60 days or potentially as long as 30 months. And in the case of Oklahoma, while a special election is required, the governor is allowed in certain circumstances to appoint the winner of the special election to fill a vacancy early.

The report also indicated that eight states were at the time considering legislation to alter their appointment practices (the list included Connecticut, where the legislation passed).

You can read the full report here.