Date of Award

May 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

First Advisor

Thomas M. Holbrook

Committee Members

Kathleen Dolan, Sara C. Benesh, David A. Armstrong, Paru R. Shah


Appointments, Elections, Legislative Behavior, Representation, Seventeenth Amendment, U.S. Senate


This dissertation examines how vacancies in the United States Senate are filled. Despite the ability of states to set the institution for naming replacements, gubernatorial appointment continues to be the dominant method of selecting successors. The popularity of gubernatorial appointment - which empowers a single individual to substitute his/her judgment for the decision of the state electorate - is curious given that one goal of the Seventeenth Amendment was to democratize the selection of senators. However, appointments provide a notable benefit over elections by creating shorter vacancies. Drawing on biographies of governors and appointees, and primary-source accounts of appointments, ambition is found to constrain governors' selections and encourage uncontroversial appointments. The goal of avoiding negative attention is reflected in the legislative careers of appointees who provide more moderate roll-call records than elected senators. Further, appointees are not systematically advantaged in elections if they seek to retain their seat. In fact, the characteristics associated with appointee electoral success are the same as those rewarded in elections featuring non-appointees. Thus, in general, the selection, legislative behavior, and electoral careers of Senate appointees do not provide the impetus for reform. While most appointments are uncontroversial, some draw negative attention and calls to strip governors of their power to appoint. Reform attempts face major hurdles to enactment including considerations of partisan advantage and undesirable aspects of proposed alternatives. Ultimately, the lack of controversy surrounding most selections and the difficulties faced in reforming the method of naming replacements leads to the persistence of Senate appointments.