Samiksha Jaiswal (Editor)

Seniority in the United States Senate

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Seniority in the United States Senate is valuable as it confers a number of benefits and is based on length of continuous service, with ties broken by a series of factors. Customarily, the terms "senior senator" and "junior senator" are used to distinguish the two senators representing a particular state.

Contents

Benefits of seniority

The United States Constitution does not mandate differences in rights or power, but Senate rules give more power to senators with more seniority. Generally, senior senators will have more power, especially within their own caucuses. In addition, by custom, senior senators from the president's party control federal patronage appointments in their states.

The president pro tempore of the Senate is traditionally the most senior member of the majority party.

There are several benefits, including the following:

  • Senators are given preferential treatment in choosing committee assignments based on seniority. Seniority on a committee is based on length of time serving on that committee, which means a senator may rank above another in committee seniority but be more junior in the full Senate. Although the committee chairmanship is an elected position, it is traditionally given to the most senior senator of the majority party serving on the committee, and not already holding a conflicting position such as chairmanship of another committee. The ranking member of a committee (called the vice-chairman in some select committees) is elected in the same way.
  • Greater seniority enables a senator to choose a desk closer to the front of the Senate Chamber.
  • Senators with higher seniority may choose to move into better office space as those offices are vacated.
  • Seniority determines the ranking in the United States order of precedence although other factors, such as being a former President or First Lady, can place an individual higher in the order of precedence.
  • Determining the beginning of a term

    A term does not necessarily coincide with the date the Senate convenes or when the new Senator is sworn in. In the case of Senators first elected in a general election for the upcoming Congress, their terms begin on the first day of the new Congress. Since 1935, that means January 3 of odd-numbered years. The seniority date for an appointed senator is the date of the appointment, not necessarily the date of taking the oath of office. In the case of Senators taking vacant seats in special elections, the term begins on Election Day. However, in both of these cases, if the incoming Senator is a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives at the time, he/she must resign from the House before her/his term in the Senate begins.

    Determining length of seniority

    A senator's seniority is primarily determined by length of continuous service; for example, a senator who has served for 12 years is more senior than one who has served for 10 years. Because several new senators usually join at the beginning of a new Congress, seniority is determined by prior federal or state government service. These tiebreakers in order are:

    1. Former Senator
    2. Former Vice President
    3. Former House member
    4. Former Cabinet secretary
    5. Former state Governor
    6. Population of state based on the most recent census when the senator took office
    7. Alphabetical by last name (in case two senators came from the same state on the same day and have identical credentials)

    When more than one senator has served in the same previous role, length of time in that prior office is used to break the tie. For instance, Richard Shelby and John McCain both took office on January 3, 1987, and each had previously served in the House of Representatives. Shelby, having served 8 years, is more senior than McCain, who served 4.

    Current seniority list

    Only relevant factors are listed below. For senators whose seniority is based on their states' respective populations, the state population ranking is given as determined by the relevant United States Census current at the time they first took their seat.

    References

    Seniority in the United States Senate Wikipedia


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