Feingold Seeks Change in Empty Senate Seat Protocol

Following controversy over the appointments of three of the four Senate seats vacated after the 2008 presidential election, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., plans to introduce a constitutional amendment that would leave it up to voters -- and not the state governors -- to fill the empty seats.

"When you don't use the idea of 'one person, one vote' it's an invitation to corruption, embarrassment or abuse," Feingold, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, told ABCNews.com. "It's unattractive and undemocratic."

"Unattractive" is a word that might aptly describe what happened in Illinois, New York and Delaware when it was left up to the governors of those states to decide who should fill the empty Senate seats.

In Illinois, embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich, chose former State Attorney General Roland Burris to fill President Obama's Senate seat.

Blagojevich, whose impeachment trial began Monday, is facing corruption charges after he was arrested in December for allegedly trying to sell Obama's vacant Senate seat -- the very one he filled by appointing Burris -- has consistently maintained that as governor he was "required to make" the appointment.

"If I don't make this appointment, then the people of Illinois will be deprived of their appropriate voice and vote in the United States Senate," Blagojevich said in December 2008.

New York also had its share of acrimony after Sen. Hillary Clinton left her seat open upon being confirmed as secretary of state in the Obama administration, leaving N.Y. Gov. David Paterson to decide who would fill her spot. Caroline Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy's daughter, quickly emerged as a front-runner, sparking a media feeding frenzy over whether yet another Kennedy would turn to a life of politics.

But Kennedy abruptly withdrew her name from the race citing "personal reasons" and left Paterson to appoint New York Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand. Many in the Democratic Party believed that Kennedy had been manhandled in the process and that the governor had opened the tent too wide, leading to embarrassment.

In Vice President Joe Biden's home state of Delaware, the Senate seat he left unoccupied was filled by a man some say is simply a place-holder for Biden's son, Beau Biden, who is currently serving in Iraq.

Edward E. "Ted" Kaufman, a close adviser to Biden for many years, was appointed in November by Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner. Kaufman has said publicly he would not run in the special election in 2010, so that Beau could follow in his father's footsteps, many observers believe.

"What we've seen this year is a disturbing problem and an abuse of this power that suggests this is not the way to go [about filling senate vacancies]," said Feingold.

Feingold: Follow House's Lead

According to Feingold, citizens should have the same rights to elect their state senators in instances of unexpected vacancies as they do during regular elections.

In Feingold's home state of Wisconsin, special elections are mandated under state law when U.S. Senate seats are vacated, and gubernatorial appointments are not an option. Only one other state, Oregon, uses a similar system.

"I've always believed in and been proud of the fact that Wisconsin has never used the system" of having the governor appoint a senator, said Feingold.

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