Reid opposes effort to fill Senate vacancies by election

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday that he will oppose an effort to require that Senate vacancies be filled by election instead of gubernatorial appointment.

Four freshman Democrats serving in the Senate are appointees: Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Ted Kaufman (Del.) and Roland Burris (Ill.).

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Earlier in the day, the Senate Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee advanced a proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) to require that Senate vacancies be filled by direct elections. Vacancies are now filled by appointment or election, depending on each state's laws.

But Reid said he would not support Senate passage of Feingold's amendment.

"I'm not in favor of our dictating to a state what it should do," Reid told reporters. "We have a system now where some states have special elections and some have governors appoint.

"In the state of Nevada the governor appoints. Even though we have a Republican governor now I think that's the way it should be so I don't support his legislation," Reid added.

Earlier in the day, the Constitution Subcommittee, which Feingold chairs, passed by a vote of 6-3-1 a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would require the direct election of all senators, including those filling vacancies.

The proposal states: "No person shall be a Senator from a State unless such person has been elected by the people thereof. 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."

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) joined Feingold in voting for the amendment.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas) opposed it.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) passed.

The issue splits Arizona's two Republican senators. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is a cosponsor of the proposed amendment.  

Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) declined to say when or if he would schedule a full committee vote on Feingold's amendment. He said he would review the issue after the Senate votes to confirm Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.