Robert Byrd served three terms in the U.S. House before beginning the 51-year Senate career that would end with his death this summer.
Had Byrd remained in the House, his death would have led to a declaration that the seat he held was vacant. That declaration would have been followed by the calling of a special election and the seat would have been filled by the voters.
That is what the U.S. Constitution – a copy of which Byrd always carried in his coat pocket – stipulates.
No one is allowed to serve in the House without first facing voters.
It is unconstitutional to appoint a member of the chamber.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that the Senate is supposed to be elected, governors have since 1913 interpreted a vague section in the Constitution’s 17th amendment (which established direct election of senators) as allowing them to fill vacancies by appointment.
As such, many senators serve without having ever faced the voters. They cast critical votes on issues of war and peace, taxation and spending and the scope and character of the federal government. Often, they cloture votes make the difference in determining whether a major matter of concern will be addressed or neglected.
Before Byrd’s death, the chamber had five unelected members – the replacements for President Obama (Illinois), Vice President Biden (Delaware), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (New York), Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar (Colorado) and retired Senator Mel Martinez (Florida). Another unelected senator represented massachusetts for four months before a special-election was held in January of this year to replace the late Edward Kennedy.
Now, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin has appointed his former chief counsel, Carte Goodwin, a West Virginia political hanger-on who has never held elective office and never earned a single vote for U.S. Senate from the people of the state, to replace Byrd.