The Senate Constitution Subcommittee today voted 5.3 in favor of a proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by CMC alum and congressman, David Dreier. Essentially, Dreier and others are trying to overturn the provision of the 17th Amendment that calls for governors to appoint senators.
They want an obligatory special election for senators in cases of vacancies. I have already written about the role that CMC alums and professors have had in the debate over the 17th amendment and I wrote about the problem of senatorial incapacity in a paper for Pitney about whether or not we should allow governors or state legislatures to decide that senators are "incapicated."
It seems to be increasingly common for senators to step down so that governors can appoint their replacements, in an almost British parliamentary procedure. Republicans seem to be availing themselves of this loophole by taking advantage of this. Witness Governor Frist's dilemma with the seat vacated by Mel Martinez.
Perhaps a special election will allow more democratic competition into it -- as if that were desireable -- but at the expense of accountability, which brings me to the best argument against changing the Seventeenth Amendment as provided by Matt Spaulding, CMC '83, in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Spaulding said,
Over the course of the ninety-five years between the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment and today—during which there have been 184 appointments to fill Senate vacancies—there has been only one known case of a corrupt governor selling a Senate seat. As appalling as this case appears to be, this is neither a pattern of corruption nor a crisis of constitutional proportion. Indeed, the corruption seems to have more to do with the particulars of Chicago politics than the nature of gubernatorial appointment, which is why the Illinois legislature was correct in pursuing impeachment proceedings. A single case does not justify federal intervention, by either legislation or constitutional amendment.