I read in the news today that Democrats are fighting over who will take over Rep. Conyers seat in Congress until the next election.

I don't understand. The governor of Michigan is a Republican, so won't he be appointing a Republican replacement?

3 Answers 3


Unlike the Senate (where each state has its own rules), the Constitution mandates replacement by special election

Vacancies in the House of Representatives typically take far longer to fill. The Constitution requires that member of the House be replaced only by an election held in the congressional district of the former representative.

"When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies." -- Article I, Section 2, Clause 4 of the U.S. Constitution

According to the U.S. Constitution and state law, the governor of the state calls for a special election to replace the vacant House seat. The full election cycle must be followed including political party nominating processes, primary elections and a general election, all held in the congressional district involved. The entire process often takes as long as from three to six months.

While a House seat is vacant, the office of the former representative remains open, its staff operating under the supervision of the Clerk of the House of Representatives. The people of the affected congressional district do not have voting representation in the House during the vacancy period.

They can, however, continue to contact former representative's interim office for assistance with a limited range of services as listed below by the Clerk of the House.

So why are Democrats fighting for this? Conyers represented Michigan Congressional District 13, which has has a predominant black demographic that has traditionally voted heavily with Democrats. The last Republican elected to represent the district was in 1949.

  • So the parties will go through the whole nominating/primary/general process to fill a seat that wtll be up for the same process for a November 2018 mid-term election?
    – DJohnM
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 22:44
  • 1
    @DJohnM Correct. They'll fill out the rest of Conyer's term and then have to run again. Ironically, this is less stressful to a campaign because you don't have to shut it all down
    – Machavity
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 23:55

PoloHoleSet's answer is entirely right about this specific case. In the more general case, the Constitution specifies (emphasis mine):

When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies [Article I, Section 2]

for Representatives vs

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: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct [17th Amendment]

for Senators.

In other words, in case of vacancy, states may permit their governor to appoint a temporary Senator, but they must elect a new Representative.

  • 3
    Remember that Senators weren't originally chosen by direct election, but by the state legislature. It wasn't until the early 20th century that the Constitution was amended to require direct elections. The governor making appointments to fill Senate vacancies is perhaps a relic of this original selection process.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 19:40
  • @jamesqf - Very true. The original form gave the governor the power of recess appointments, parallel to the President having that ability during a recess of the US Senate. The amended version seems like a reasonable compromise to preserve that.
    – Bobson
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 20:05
  • 1
    Also remember that Representatives serve two year terms, so a vacancy in office will likely occur close enough to the an election (even then, major legislation doesn't typically go through either house during an election year). Senators serve six year terms so a vacancy could occur leaving a state at 50% representation for some time without direct appointment.
    – hszmv
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 20:59

Governors, generally speaking, are the ones who appoint US Senators to fill vacancies in that body (though not in all states).

I'm not aware of any states where they appoint Representatives for vacancies in the House.

For Michigan, the state law requires a special election to fill vacancies. If Conyers' district is overwhelmingly Democratic, then it's a given that the Democratic nominee will take that seat.

Detroit Free Press - John Conyers retires: What happens next to replace him in Congress

  • Conyers' district is in urban Detroit, so your suspicion about it being "heavily Democratic" is probably accurate. (It's shifted around a lot during Conyers' tenure, though, so it's hard to attach exact numbers to that.) Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 18:44

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