"The unfortunate reality is that Congress is still vulnerable to attack, and yet we still don’t have a Constitutional mechanism for replacing House members quickly," said Baird in a press release. "I understand this isn’t a pleasant or easy topic for members to discuss, but we cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand and hope that we remain safe."
Offering his answer, Rep. Baird has re-introduced legislation (H.J. Res. 56) proposing a constitutional amendment he feels would guarantee the continuity of Congress, thus the continuity of U.S. government, even after a catastrophic event.
How Congressional Vacancies are Filled Now
Currently, the Constitution calls for vacancies in the House to be filled by a special election that must be held within 49 days of the vacancy. In the Senate, the governor of the state usually appoints a person to fill the Senate position until the next general election. However, the 49-day requirement for special elections to fill House vacancies just went into effect in 2005, and none of the states have yet passed laws preparing them to hold the elections. In addition, Congress does not address the issue of how it would operate in the 49 days between a catastrophe and the special elections.
What Rep. Baird's Amendment Would Do
Rep. Baird's propose constitutional amendment includes the following provisions intended to insure the continuity of the U.S. Congress in the event of a catastrophe:
- Upon being sworn into the House or Senate, members would provide a list of three designees one of whom would replace them in the event of their death, incapacitation or disappearance.
- If a significant number of members of Congress were killed, incapacitated, or disappeared, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Vice President, or President Pro Tempore of the Senate would fill any vacancy from the list of the Representative’s or Senator’s designees.
- The designees would only serve in office until the Senators or Representatives regained capacity, were located, or another member was elected to fill the vacancy.
- Congress would establish the criteria for determining whether a Senator or Representative is considered dead, incapacitated, or has disappeared.
- States would be required to hold special elections as soon as possible to elect replacements.
"This issue is too important to continue living in a state of 'what if's'," Rep. Baird told the House. "The potential of an attack is real, the possibility of a Constitutional crisis is real, yet Congress seems to pretend that nothing will ever happen. We can no longer remain unwilling to address the reality of the world in which we live; the time to act is now."
The Road Ahead for Rep. Baird's Proposal Resolutions calling for amendments to the Constitution, such as Rep. Baird's, must be passed by a two-thirds majority of both the House and Senate. The resolution does not require the president's signature. To become effective, the proposed amendment must then be "ratified" or approved by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states. Congress typically places a time limit of seven years for ratification by the states.
While over 10,000 have been proposed, only seventeen amendments to the Constitution have been adopted since final ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791.