At least 14 states will send new senators to Washington over the next three months, and while all these members will be considered freshmen, some will be more equal than others. There can be no ties in seniority in the Senate, and senators sworn in before Jan. 3 will have a leg up on their new colleagues.
For senators sworn in on the same day, seniority is determined, in order, by previous service in the Senate, House, and years as governor, with final ties being determined by state population.
To be sure, overall Senate seniority only matters in terms of office-suite assignments, but within a caucus, it can sometimes help a senator with placements on his or her committees.
First to be sworn in will be the winners of the three special elections in Illinois, West Virginia and Delaware. The order in which these new senators will be sworn in is largely dependent on how quickly the secretaries of State in Illinois and West Virginia and the Commissioner of Elections in Delaware can -- or choose to -- send paperwork to the Senate declaring that the race has been informally decided.
All three of these officials are Democrats, so it's not implausible that Republicans Rep. Mark Kirk in Illinois, John Raese in West Virginia, or Christine O'Donnell in Delaware might have to wait a bit longer than would Democrats Alexi Giannoulias, Joe Manchin, or Chris Coons, respectively. If a contest is close, a swearing-in might have to wait until that state's final vote is officially certified. But in any event, it's clear that the next three senators will emerge from this group of six candidates.
Beyond that, the terms of other new senators will begin constitutionally on Jan. 3. One wrinkle: The Senate does not recognize the seniority of a senator sworn in prematurely merely because the outgoing senator resigns early, even if there is a gubernatorial appointment of the senator-elect to the remainder of the old senator's term.
This article appears in the October 9, 2010 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.