The 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is known best for establishing direct election of senators, but it also allows state legislatures to empower the governor to appoint a replacement to complete the term of any vacancy due to death, resignation, or expulsion. While many states have used this provision to fill their vacancies, the Amendment does not clarify whether this replacement is permitted to run for the seat in the next election. It is presumed that any legislation specifically forbidding this may be unconstitutional.
Senator Edward Kennedy’s death on August 25th, 2009 created a vacancy in the Senate. Pursuant to MA GL ch. 54, § 140, Governor Deval Patrick set a special election date for January 19th, 2010. On September 19th, 2009, in accordance with the 17th Amendment, the Massachusetts House passed a bill allowing the governor to appoint an interim senator to represent the state until the special election takes place in 2010. On September 22nd, the MA Senate also approved the bill, and the General Court with both houses gave final approval the following day. On September 24th, the governor signed the bill into law. Patrick then appointed Paul G. Kirk, Jr. as interim US senator. His appointment will expire after the special election on January 19th, 2010. Governor Patrick chose Kirk under the condition that he not run in the special election, in response to both the MA House and Senate passing resolutions requesting that the selectee not run in the special election. [Read more…] about MA Legislature Flirts with Unconstitutionality in Compromise Regarding Appointed Senator