September 25, 2018 | What’s on Tap for the U.S. Supreme Court? Previewing the October 2018 Term
|The Direct Election of U.S. Senators||Important Cases|
|When the Constitution was first ratified, the Senate and House of Representatives were elected in two very different ways. Members of the House, as we are familiar with today, were directly elected by the people. But members of the Senate, as established by Article I, Section 3, were elected by state legislatures.|
This original system was a way to ensure that state governments would remain relevant within the new national government. There were also strong feelings among many of the founders that popular elections, like those that put members of the House into place, were tumultuous and filled with passions of the masses. These men felt that this should be tempered by the coolheadedness of Senators appointed by the esteemed state legislators.
However, by the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, a movement had emerged to increase the accountability of Senators to the people directly. Thus, the 17th Amendment was drafted and ratified.
The text of the amendment says as follows:
“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.”
The first clause undoes the original structure of the Senate. The two Senators are now to be elected by the people. The second clause describes the process to be followed in the event that a seat in the Senate is emptied before a term is complete. The “executive authority” of that particular state (meaning, the Governor) can be given the power by the state legislature to both call fort early elections or make a temporary appointment until the next election is held. The third clause ensured that any Senator elected before the changes took place was still a proper Senator.