Ted Kennedy’s Senate Seat

Sen­a­tor Kennedy has request­ed that the Mass­a­chu­setts leg­is­la­ture and gov­er­nor move to change the law regard­ing how a vacant Sen­ate seat is filled. Kennedy’s inter­est is due to his own seri­ous health issue and the pre­car­i­ous nature of health reform leg­is­la­tion in the US Sen­ate. Health reform has been one of Kennedy’s top con­cerns his entire career.

Noam Scheiber over at The New Repub­lic thinks it would be a bad idea for Mass­a­chu­setts to change the law.

Scheiber thinks that Kennedy’s vacant seat after his death would increase the like­li­hood that health reform leg­is­la­tion would pass.

it would be sui­ci­dal for the GOP to fil­i­buster the cul­mi­na­tion of the last Kennedy broth­er’s life­long crusade.

I see two prob­lems here. I’m not con­vinced it would be sui­ci­dal for the GOP to do that (though pos­si­bly). More impor­tant­ly, I doubt the GOP would see it that way.

Fur­ther, I don’t see what dif­fer­ence it would make if Kennedy’s seat was filled by the gov­er­nor’s appoint­ment or not. If the GOP did believe it sui­ci­dal to “fil­i­buster the cul­mi­na­tion of the last Kennedy broth­er’s life­long cru­sade” why would the seat being filled change that calculation?

Scheiber goes on to say:

I sus­pect the cov­er­age of Kennedy’s death would silence health­care reform crit­ics and boost pro­po­nents in a way that net­ted at least a cou­ple of waver­ing mod­er­ates – so clear­ing the 51-vote thresh­old would­n’t be a prob­lem. Heck, you might even see Utah Repub­li­can (and long­time Kennedy friend) Orrin Hatch back in the reformist camp.

This may very well be true, but again, I don’t see how the gov­er­nor nam­ing some­one to fill the vacant seat dis­rupts this all that much. An addi­tion of a cou­ple of mod­er­ate votes would be help­ful to get to 60.

Final­ly, Scheiber is assum­ing that Kennedy is con­cerned about what will hap­pen after his death. It could be that Kennedy is pre­pared to resign the moment Mass­a­chu­setts makes the appro­pri­ate change in the law. Kennedy might be at the point where he now knows he will nev­er be on the floor of the Sen­ate again, but also know­ing his vote (read: his replace­men­t’s vote) will be needed.

I can see an argu­ment that Mass­a­chu­setts should not change the law based on the idea that laws should not be altered for polit­i­cal expe­di­en­cy. The Mass­a­chu­setts law used to allow the gov­er­nor to appoint some­one to a vacant Sen­ate seat but the leg­is­la­ture changed it when there was a faint hope that Ker­ry would vacate the seat to become Pres­i­dent and the Mass­a­chu­setts gov­er­nor at the time was a Repub­li­can. Not that I would be per­suad­ed in this par­tic­u­lar case by such an argu­ment, but it is a good one (and should have been heed­ed the first time around).

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