The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Two senators, regardless of population, represent each U.S. state. Senators serve staggered six-year terms. The chamber of the United States Senate is located in the north wing of the Capitol, in Washington, D.C., the national capital.
The Senate's side of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.
The Senate has several exclusive powers not granted to the House. These include the power to consent to treaties as a precondition to their ratification. The senate may also consent to or confirm the appointment of Cabinet secretaries, federal judges, other federal executive officials, military officers, regulatory officials, ambassadors, and other federal uniformed officers. The Senate is also responsible for trying federal officials impeached by the House.
The Constitution stipulates that no constitutional amendment may be created to deprive a state of its equal suffrage in the Senate without that state's consent. The District of Columbia and all other territories (including territories, protectorates, etc. ) are not entitled to representation in either House of the Congress. The District of Columbia elects two shadow senators, but they are officials of the D.C. city government and not members of the U.S. Senate. The United States has had 50 states since 1959, thus the Senate has had 100 senators since 1959.
Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution sets three qualifications for senators: 1) they must be at least 30 years old, 2) they must have been citizens of the United States for at least the past nine years, and 3) they must be inhabitants of the states they seek to represent at the time of their election. The age and citizenship qualifications for senators are more stringent than those for representatives. In Federalist No. 62, James Madison justified this arrangement by arguing that the "senatorial trust" called for a "greater extent of information and stability of character. "
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution disqualifies from the Senate any federal or state officers who had taken the requisite oath to support the Constitution, but later engaged in rebellion or aided the enemies of the United States. This provision, which came into force soon after the end of the Civil War, was intended to prevent those who had sided with the Confederacy from serving.
Term and Elections
Senators serve terms of six years each. The terms are staggered so that approximately one-third of the seats are up for election every two years. This was achieved by dividing the senators of the 1st Congress into thirds (called classes), where the terms of one-third expired after two years, the terms of another third expired after four, and the terms of the last third expired after six years. This arrangement was also followed after the admission of new states into the union. The staggering of terms has been arranged such that both seats from a given state are not contested in the same general election, except when a mid-term vacancy is being filled. Current senators whose six-year terms expire on January 3, 2013, belong to Class I.
Senate procedure depends not only on the rules, but also on a variety of customs and traditions. The Senate commonly waives some of its stricter rules by unanimous consent. Party leaders typically negotiate unanimous consent agreements beforehand. A senator may block such an agreement, but in practice, objections are rare. The presiding officer enforces the rules of the Senate, and may warn members who deviate from them. The presiding officer sometimes uses the gavel of the Senate to maintain order.
A "hold" is placed when the leader's office is notified that a senator intends to object to a request for unanimous consent from the Senate to consider or pass a measure. A hold may be placed for any reason and can be lifted by a senator at any time. A senator may place a hold simply to review a bill, to negotiate changes to the bill, or to kill the bill. A bill can be held for as long as the senator who objects to the bill wishes to block its consideration.
Holds can be overcome, but require time-consuming procedures such as filing cloture. Holds are considered private communications between a senator and the Leader, and are sometimes referred to as "secret holds". A senator may disclose that he or she has placed a hold.