Constitution: Article 1 §2.4

To better understand this political system we have inherited, I’m making a careful study of the Constitution. I’m sharing here in case others similarly engaged might want to discuss it. At the very least, making my study public holds me accountable to stick with it. After all, in a functioning democracy we should all be Constitutional scholars.

Last week I wrapped up Article 1 §2.3. Now it’s time for Clause 4.

4: When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.

An aside about carpentry

Thrilling stuff. Sometimes we talk about the Constitution with the same reverence as holy scripture – and sometimes, I think that’s a good thing. I have a lot of respect for the Constitution, and it is a foundational document for our society. That’s why I’m studying it. But it’s also important to remember that it is first and foremost a practical document.

When I was growing up, people always talked about the “Founding Fathers,” which sounds a little off to me now. It’s a little too reverential for my taste, making them sound like part of the trinity instead of statesmen. I much prefer the term “Framers.” That makes them sound like carpenters, skilled workers. And I think the parallel can be extended, because one thing that reading the Constitution has made me realize is that it’s – mostly – not about the Big Ideas. The Declaration of Independence is full of grand statements, but the Constitution is a blue print. When they wrote it, the men at the Constitutional Congress were drafting the framework for the kind of government they wanted to build.

Writs of election

So I like these nuts-and-bolts sections, that in nearly 230 years have never required interpretation by the Supreme Court (according the Congressional Annotated Constitution, page 124)

4: When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.

When a vacancy occurs, the state’s executive authority (governor) takes action. The governor issues Writs of Election.

I love Writs of Election. Wait. What are writs of election?

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(This is the best I can do. Someone please make a gif of Nihao Kailan’s Rintoo saying “I love stuff! What’s stuff?)

The glossary at the bottom of my Constitution link says “writs” are “orders. Orders of election. Does that mean the governor calls for a special election?

Yes. It does. In general, I’m not a fan of the Heritage Foundation, but they do have a nice web site on the Constitution, which addresses this clause. (They do include case law relating to this clause, while the Congress’ own website shows no annotation for this clause. Even the most straightforward language can generate disagreement when you’ve had 230 years to think about it.)

Also, just as a reminder that this stuff that sounds so procedural and bureaucratic affects us everyday, let’s think back a few short weeks to what happened in Georgia and South Carolina. Imagine how differently the next few years might have played out if those elections had gone a different way.

And Utah, you’re up next – your special election primary is August 15. Do the right thing. Vote. It would be great if you did so intelligently, but do vote regardless.


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