The Constitutional Problems With the Hawaii Law By Which Senator Schatz Was Appointed to Replace the Late Senator Inouye
by Vikram David Amar, Law Professor, UC Davis (Excerpts)
…(T)he way (Inouye) was replaced doesn’t seem to have been constitutionally proper.
Under Hawaii law, the Governor is empowered (indeed, directed) by the legislature to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy until an election of the people of the state is held. So far, so good. The Seventeenth Amendment of the Constitution provides, in crucial part:
“When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.”
This language clearly tells state legislatures to prescribe the procedures for replacement elections and also authorizes (but does not require) state legislatures to empower their Governors to make temporary U.S. Senate appointments so that the vacancies are filled in the meantime.
But here’s the wrinkle: the Hawaii statute (and those of a very small number of other states) limits the Governor’s choice to one of three names submitted by the political party with which the fallen Senator was affiliated, in this case the Democratic Party. Hawaii law provides: “the governor shall make a temporary appointment to fill the vacancy by selecting a person from a list of three prospective appointees submitted by the same political party as the prior incumbent.” The Democratic Party in Hawaii submitted three names, one of which was Schatz’s, from which the Governor was instructed to choose.
From one perspective, it would seem to make sense to limit the Governor to picking someone who is from the same political party from which the fallen Senator came; death or resignation should ordinarily not upset the partisan balance of the Senate and the partisan wishes of the voters who elected the Senators. Yet there is a very strong case to be made that the Seventeenth Amendment prevents the Hawaii legislature from substantively constraining the Governor’s choices in making a temporary appointment….
…while state legislatures can deny Governors the power to make temporary Senate appointments entirely, once they decide under the Amendment to authorize gubernatorial temporary appointments, they cannot unduly constrain Governors’ exercise of that power….
The Historical/Structural Case Against the Hawaii Approach
Disempowering the legislature and political parties to impose substantive constraints also makes a great deal of historical sense, given that the overall goal of the Seventeenth Amendment was to get state legislatures—and the party cronies who were thought to control state legislators—out of the business of deciding who should serve in the U.S. Senate. Indeed, if the history of the Seventeenth Amendment reveals anything, it is the distrust and skepticism Progressives had concerning the influence of political parties in the legislative process. Those who pushed for direct election of U.S. Senators often blamed partisan excess and party machinations for the legislative deadlocks in filling Senate vacancies. This vision of party secrecy and backroom party deals cut by a few persons, who could not be counted on to represent the public’s interest, was often described in terms of party machines or party “bosses.” As towering Senate historian George Haynes put it, “[s]ometimes the [S]enatorship was meekly handed over [by the legislature] to a state boss, whose phenomenal skill in the manipulation of legislators was out of all proportion to his hold upon the voters.”
In 1911, Indiana Senator Beveridge, speaking on behalf of one of the many constitutional proposals of what became the Seventeenth Amendment, voiced this assessment of party influence and distortion:
Political parties . . . elect a legislature, and [the] majority in that legislature is not supposed, nor even permitted, according to the original theory of the Constitution, to select the best man in the State . . . . It must select a man of the party which elected the legislature . . . . So it comes to pass that Senators actually have been . . . selected by the “party managers” . . . . The party boss has become more potent than the legislature, or even the people themselves, in selecting United States Senators in more than one State.
The part of Hawaii law that delegates to party chiefs the task of generating a short list seems to run quite counter to the historical anti-boss spirit of the direct election drive….
There is another way in which the Hawaii statute likely impermissibly constrains the Governor, as well. Not only does the statute purport to limit the Governor to three party-generated choices, but it also purports to require him to make an appointment, by its use of the word “shall.”
But this, too, seems problematic, under a careful reading of Section 2 of the Seventeenth Amendment. That provision says state legislatures “may empower” (emphasis added) governors to make temporary appointments, until the people fill the vacancies by election. “Empower” does not mean “require”; rather, it means “to create the power to do or not do something.” The Constitution generally distinguishes between powers and duties, and the Seventeenth Amendment’s words seem to speak only to possible gubernatorial powers, not any gubernatorial duties.
Thus, it is not at all clear that governors must exercise temporary appointment authority, even when that authority is validly created by the legislature….
The Constitution makes each house, including the Senate, the “Judge of the . . . Qualifications of its own members.” So if a majority of Senators believe that the constitutional flaws in Hawaii’s statute that I have identified are unseverable from the part of the statute that authorizes the Governor to make temporary Senate appointments in the first place, then the Senate could have legitimately concluded that there was no valid “empower[ment]” of the Hawaii Governor under the current scheme, and could have rejected as unqualified (and therefore refused to seat) anybody the Governor appoints, including Mr. Schatz.
Under this—quite plausible—scenario, the vacancy from Hawaii would have remained unfilled until either a popular election had been held, or until the Hawaii legislature passed a new gubernatorial authorization that would be free of the impermissible restraints…..
read … The Entire Article
Counterpoint: Senate Vacancies, And Why Governors Must Pick Temporary Appointees Chosen By Political Parties