1.25.2009

Feingold's Overkill Response to the Blago Crisis

Looking to capitalize on public discontent with recent high profile gubernatorial senate appointments, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold is pushing a constitutional amendment.

The proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution would bar governors of all states from appointing a senator when a vacancy occurs, mandating a special election instead.

While I see the good intentions that seem to animate his proposal, I strongly oppose his suggested amendment.

I think Feingold's reaction to public queasiness with the actions of Governors Blagojevich and Patterson is excessive. The decision about whether a state's governor or its people will decide who will fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate should be left to the citizens of individual states. The citizens of each state should determine in their respective state constitutions whether they want a gubernatorial appointment system or a special election system.

How could someone be against a mandatory special election process? Well, while technological changes have made if far easier to hold a special election rapidly following a vacancy, they will still take more time than a gubernatorial appointment. If citizens of a state believe they can generally trust their governors to refrain from Blagoesque-it's-Pearl-Harbor-and-they're-trying-to-hang-me lunacy and want an immediate replacement in representation, then I don't think we should amend our nation's Constitution to bar them from exercising that choice. Normally, governors will restrain their appointment behavior to a reasonable level to avoid damaging political consequences for themselves.

We do not need a constitutional amendment barring governors from making appointments in the event of Senate vacancies. We have a variety of state responses to the vacancy problem in the wake of the 17th Amendment barring state legislatures from appointing U.S. Senators. I think that's healthy, a great organic result of the laboratory of federalism.