Introducing Constitutional Amendment to Address Continuity of Congress Issue -- (Extensions of Remarks - March 18, 2004)
SPEECH OF THE
HON. JOHN B. LARSON
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
THURSDAY, MARCH 18, 2004
Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Speaker, today I rise to offer what I believe is a necessary solution to a problem not addressed in our Founding Fathers' plan for our country's government.
I recently introduced a Constitutional Amendment to address the issue of how Congress would continue should a catastrophic event occur. Under this proposal, if a majority of House members are killed or incapacitated as a result of such an event their seats could be immediately filled by temporary appointments made by state legislatures. We need look no further than the Continental Congresses and Constitutional Convention, to understand that such a temporary solution would be successful. I believe that a functional House, even in a temporarily modified form, is far better than no House at all.
The temporary appointments would be afforded full Member powers, until vacancies are filled by a special election. However, a temporary Member could not be a candidate in the election for the seat he or she holds, and the temporary Member must be of the same political party as the Member who previously held the seat.
There is no way the Founders could have foreseen the need to address such an issue. The terrorist acts that take place nearly every day across the globe were not a part of their world. That's why I believe a Constitutional Amendment is necessary to enable the House to reconstitute itself as quickly as possible.
We have amended the Constitution to address presidential succession and the appointment of Senators in the case of vacancies, but the House has no such constitutional safeguard in the event of a catastrophe. That doesn't make sense. If the Senate can accept an appointment to fill an entire term, then a temporary appointment should not be that offensive to the concept of democracy, and therefore, should be acceptable for the House.
I offered this Constitutional amendment (H.J. Res. 89), because I believe that proposals to expedite special elections and make temporary appointments are not mutually exclusive. I support the idea of a new statute that seeks to expedite special elections and fill House seats quickly in the event of a catastrophe, but this needs to be done in concert with a Constitutional Amendment for temporary replacements and with respect for views of the states.
As for other proposals that address this issue only through expedited special elections, I am certainly willing to review any compromise opportunities. However, I do not believe, nor does the secretary of state from my home state of Connecticut believe, that it is reasonable to expect that we can hold special elections within 45 days after a disastrous event has wiped out hundreds of Members. Also, expedited special elections won't reconstitute the House fast enough to deal with pressing legislative matters.
The tragic events of September 11, 2001 taught us that Congress needs to act quickly on critical pieces of legislation to deal with the aftermath of a crisis. Should such an event occur again and many Members of Congress die, the country will not have the luxury of waiting for special elections to occur in order for the people's business to continue. To avoid taking action now to prevent this scenario would be a dereliction of our duty.
My proposed Constitutional Amendment also addresses vacancies created by the incapacity of a Member of the House, which cannot be addressed by a mere statute. The article would become part of the Constitution if ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states within seven years of the date of its submission to them.
As a former history teacher and long-serving member of the Connecticut State Senate, I feel very strongly about the need to preserve the institution of Congress. In December, I held a Continuity of Congress Forum at the University of Connecticut School of Law in Hartford, Connecticut. I invited local academic leaders, who are experts in Congressional operations, to discuss current House proposals about how Congress would continue should a catastrophic event occur.
Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this Constitutional Amendment. This is certainly an issue that is difficult for all of us to address-our untimely demise or incapacitation. Yet, given the level of terrorist activity in our world, it would behoove us to recognize that we need a mechanism for temporary appointments should a catastrophic event occur in the House of Representatives.