Use this tag for questions related directly to the 17th amendment to the United States Constitution or issues arising from it. The 17th amendment is best known for instituting the popular election of Senators.

The 17th amendment to the United States constitution is described in full below:


The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

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.

This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.

In short it

  • States that each state has 2 senators that serve for 6 years, elected by popular vote. And, within each state, those who can vote for these senators are identical to those who can vote for the largest legislative body for that state.
  • Allows the governor of each state to call a special election for vacant seats, unless the state legislature gives him authority to make a temporary direct appointment. The legislature also determines when the next election will be called in this situation.
  • Didn't affect senators grandfathered into this new process.

Relevant Case Law

Trinsey v. Pennsylvania confirmed that special elections held without a primary were valid under the 17th amendment:

The District Court Opinion

The district court's analysis began with the undisputable proposition that the constitutional right of the citizens of Pennsylvania to vote for their national representatives has its foundation in the Qualifications Clauses contained in Article I of the Constitution, U.S. Const. art. I, § 2, cl. 2, and the Seventeenth Amendment. The Qualifications Clause of Article I applies only to the election of members of the House of Representatives and thus is inapplicable here. Instead, we are concerned with the Seventeenth Amendment, which contains provisions, including the Qualifications Clause applicable to election of Senators, which were designed to replace the original constitutional provision for election of United States Senators by state legislatures with a provision requiring popular election of Senators.

U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton stated that no states can impose restrictions on prospective members to national office stricter than those outlined in the constitution, invoking the 17th amendment as extending the spirit of a lack of restriction on the House of Representatives:

While it is easier to coordinate a majority of state legislators than to coordinate a majority of qualified voters, the basic principle should be the same in both contexts. Just as the state legislature enjoyed virtually unfettered discretion over whom to appoint to the Senate under Art. I, § 3, so the qualified voters of the State enjoyed virtually unfettered discretion over whom to elect to the House of Representatives under Art. I, § 2. If there is no reason to believe that the Framers' Constitution barred state legislatures from adopting prospective rules to narrow their choices for Senator, then there is also no reason to believe that it barred the people of the States from adopting prospective rules to narrow their choices for Representative. In addition, there surely is no reason to believe that the Senate Qualifications Clause suddenly acquired an exclusivity provision in 1913, when the Seventeenth Amendment was adopted. Now that the people of the States are charged with choosing both Senators and Representatives, it follows that they may adopt eligibility requirements for Senators as well as for Representatives.