What’s the 17th Amendment?

Jeremy Gantz

The scandalous hullabaloo over Illinois Gov. Blagojevich allegedly peddling Obama's vacant senate seat misses the point, according to this short and sweet op-ed by Tom Geoghegan in today's NY Times. Gubernatorial appointments of U.S. senators are unconstitutional, plain and simple, the occasional In These Times contributor and newly minted congressional candidate argues.No one but Geoghegan can make constitutional law so timely and interesting:It may have been a while since many of us read the 17th Amendment, which was ratified in 1913. Its first paragraph replaced the indirect election of senators by state legislatures with “direct” popular election by the voters. The second paragraph, which you may have skipped in school, deals with vacancies. It states that when seats open up unexpectedly, governors “shall issue writs of elections to fill such vacancies.” The plain enough meaning is that the governor will issue an order for a special election. But for decades now governors have opted not to issue writs directing new or special elections. Why are they ignoring the Constitution? To increase their own power, of course. Blagojevich is bad, but isn't the creeping practice of gubernatorial appointments--and its casual tolerance by Americans--even worse?

Jeremy Gantz is a contributing editor at the magazine. He is the editor of The Age of Inequality: Corporate America’s War on Working People (2017, Verso), and was the Web/​Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012.

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