Recently, Senator Russ Feingold has proposed an amendment to the United States Constitution dealing with the way that vacant Senate seats are filled. If it were passed in sequence, it would become the Amendment XXVIII to the United States Constitution. However, it may not pass in sequence, and there is a good chance it will not pass at all, so I will not title it as such. It also, as far as I know, does not have a snappy name such as "Equal Rights Amendment", so I am instead referring to it by the somewhat unwieldy name of "Feingold's Constitutional Amendment".

Since Amendment XVII in 1913, United States Senators are elected directly by the popular vote in their states. When a Senator dies, is incapacitated, or resigns, each state has a different method for replacing that Senator. Some states have a special election, but most have an appointment by the Governor. There are various in-between states, for example, some states have a gubernatorial appointment but elect the Senator at the next general election, instead of waiting for the complete term, which could be up to six years,to be completed.

This has recently been somewhat of a problem, as President Obama's cabinet has created many senate vacancies, including the President and his Vice-President themselves. In one case, the case of the President's seat, the governor of Illinois was caught quite blatantly trying to sell Obama's former seat. In another case, that of Hillary Clinton, the governor of New York was seen as choosing the replacement in a somewhat capricious manner. And even more recently, the appointment of Republican Senator Judd Gregg to the position of commerce secretary was done under an agreement between Obama, Gregg and New Hampshire governor John Lynch that Gregg's replacement would be appointed from the Republican party. All of which bring doubt about how democratically minded the process of replacing Senators is.

Which has led Senator Russ Feingold, a liberal Senator from Wisconsin, to propose an amendment to the constitution that says that all states must follow the process currently used by Oregon, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Massachusetts (although that last situation is apparently complicated), direct election of a Senator in a fast special election. This would probably limit the deal making and arbitrariness, let alone corruption, of letting Governors pick senatorial replacements.

The benefits of the Amendment are fairly clear: it limits deal making, corruption and favoritism, and makes the process more democratic. The largest downside to the Amendment is that Constitutional Amendments tend to be fairly involved, important things and passing one over what is in some ways a housekeeping matter seems to be more effort than it is worth. It could also be stated that the Amendment is somewhat against its stated purpose of making government more democratic. The states that have chosen to opt for gubernatorial appointments have done so using democratic methods, and if the people of those states choose to keep those methods, a constitutional amendment forcing them to revamp their chosen systems is in some ways anti-democratic.

Whatever the theoretical justness of this Amendment would be, it doesn't seem like it is likely to pass anytime soon. An Amendment to the constitution requires two-thirds support by both chambers of Congress, and ratification by 3/4th of the states. Current public outcry over the antics of Rod Blagojevich notwithstanding, there probably won't be enough sustained public interest or support for the measure to overcome the objections to modifying the constitution. It is always possible that if scandals continue to brew around the issue of Senatorial appointments, the Amendment could grow in public and government support. However, for now, it seems to me that there is a small chance it will ever come to passage.

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