The United States Senate, never a perfectly representative body, is in the process of becoming a good deal less representative.
One new senator, Tim Scott, has been appointed by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, rather than elected by the people of that state. Another senator will be appointed by Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie to fill the vacancy created by the death of Senator Dan Inouye. A third is expected to be appointed by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to replace secretary of state–nominee John Kerry.
These appointed senators will be powerful players. They will have critical roles in deciding whether to approve or reject cabinet nominees and Supreme Court selections, they will vote on tax policies and budget measures, they will decide whether to send the United States over a “fiscal cliff”—or off to war. But they will do so without democratic legitimacy.
No member of Congress should serve without having been elected by the people of the district or state they represent.
Unfortunately, the new Senate will have at least three members who serve not as representatives but as mandarins—appointees assigned to positions by governors who have assumed unreasonable authority.
What all this means is that more laws will be proposed, more filibusters will be broken, more critical votes will be tipped in one direction or another by “senators” who never earned a single vote.
Because of a deliberate misreading of the vague 1913 amendment to the US Constitution that replaced the old system of appointing senators with one that said they were all supposed to be directly elected.
The Seventeenth Amendment sought to end the corrupt, and corrupting, process of appointing senators. But a loophole was included to give governors the authority to make temporary appointments. That meant that, while no one has ever been allowed to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives without having first been elected, dozens and dozens of men and women have served in the Senate without having been elected. And those appointed senators often serve for two full years, as will South Carolina’s Scott, who will not face the voters until 2014. That means that, to the end of the 113th Congress, a senator chosen by one governor (Scott) will have the same power as a senator elected by 7,748,994 voters (California Democrat Dianne Feinstein).