Seniority in the United States Senate

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Seniority in the United States Senate is valuable as it confers a number of perquisites and is based on length of continuous service, with ties broken by a series of factors. Customarily, the terms "senior senator" and "junior senator" are used to distinguish the two senators representing a particular state.

Benefits of seniority[edit]

The United States Constitution does not mandate differences in rights or power, but Senate rules give more power to senators with more seniority. Generally, senior senators will have more power, especially within their own caucuses. In addition, by custom, senior senators from the president's party control federal patronage appointments in their states.

There are several perquisites, including the following:

  • Senators are given preferential treatment in choosing committee assignments based on seniority. Seniority on a committee is based on length of time serving on that committee, which means a senator may rank above another in committee seniority but be more junior in the full Senate. Although the committee chairmanship is an elected position, it is traditionally given to the most senior senator of the majority party serving on the committee, and not already holding a conflicting position such as chairmanship of another committee. The ranking member of a committee (called the vice-chairman in some select committees) is elected in the same way.
  • Greater seniority enables a senator to choose a desk closer to the front of the Senate Chamber.
  • Senators with higher seniority may choose to move into better office space as those offices are vacated.
  • Seniority determines the ranking in the United States order of precedence although other factors, such as being a former President or First Lady, can place an individual higher in the order of precedence.

Determining the beginning of a term[edit]

A term does not necessarily coincide with the date the Senate convenes or when the new Senator is sworn in.

In the case of Senators first elected in a general election for the upcoming Congress, their terms begin on the first day of the new Congress.[citation needed] Since 1935, that means January 3 of odd-numbered years).

Terms do not start until the appointee is eligible.[citation needed] For example, an incoming Senator who is a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives must resign from the House before the Senate begins.

The seniority date for an appointed senator is the date of the appointment, not necessarily the date of taking the oath of office.[citation needed]

In the case Senators taking vacant seats in special elections, the term starts from the date that both the election is certified and the Senator-elect is eligible.[citation needed]

Determining length of seniority[edit]

A senator's seniority is primarily determined by length of continuous service; for example, a senator who has served for 12 years is more senior than one who has served for 10 years. Because several new senators usually join at the beginning of a new Congress, there are eight tiebreakers:[1]

  1. Former Senator
  2. Former Representative
  3. Former President of the United States
  4. Former Vice President of the United States
  5. Former Cabinet member
  6. Former state Governor
  7. Population of state based on the most recent census when the senator took office
  8. Alphabetical by last name (in case two senators came from the same state on the same day and have identical credentials)

When more than one senator has served in the same previous role, length of time in that prior office is used to break the tie. For instance, Barbara Mikulski, Richard Shelby, John McCain and Harry Reid all took office on January 3, 1987, and each had previously served in the House of Representatives. Mikulski, having served 10 years, is more senior than Shelby, who served 8. They are both more senior than McCain and Reid, who each served 4 years. McCain outranks Reid because Arizona's population was higher than Nevada's at the 1980 census.

Current seniority list[edit]

The president pro tempore of the Senate is traditionally the most senior member of the majority party. Only relevant factors are listed below. For senators whose seniority is based on their states' respective populations, the state population ranking is given as determined by the relevant United States Census current at the time they first took their seat.[2][3][4][5]

Rank Senator Seniority date First tie-breaker Second tie-breaker Committee and leadership positions
1 Patrick Leahy (D-VT) January 3, 1975 Ranking Member: Judiciary
2 Orrin Hatch (R-UT) January 3, 1977 President pro tempore
Chair: Finance
3 Thad Cochran (R-MS) December 27, 1978[n 1] Chair: Appropriations
4 Chuck Grassley (R-IA) January 3, 1981 Chair: Judiciary
5 Mitch McConnell (R-KY) January 3, 1985 Majority Leader
6 Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) January 3, 1987 Former Representative (10 years) Ranking Member: Appropriations
7 Richard Shelby (R[n 2]-AL) Former Representative (8 years) Chair: Banking
8 John McCain (R-AZ) Former Representative (4 years) Arizona 29th in population (1980) Chair: Armed Services
9 Harry Reid (D-NV) Nevada 43rd in population (1980) Minority Leader
Democratic Caucus Chair
10 Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) November 4, 1992     Ranking Member: Intelligence
11 Barbara Boxer[n 3] (D-CA) January 3, 1993 Former Representative Ranking Member: Environment
Vice Chair: Ethics
12 Patty Murray (D-WA) Ranking Member: HELP
Democratic Caucus Secretary
13 Jim Inhofe (R-OK) November 16, 1994 Chair: Environment
14 Ron Wyden (D-OR) February 6, 1996 Ranking Member: Finance
15 Pat Roberts (R-KS) January 3, 1997 Former Representative (16 years) Chair: Agriculture
16 Dick Durbin (D-IL) Former Representative (14 years) Minority Whip
17 Jack Reed (D-RI) Former Representative (6 years) Ranking Member: Armed Services
18 Jeff Sessions (R-AL) Alabama 22nd in population (1990)
19 Susan Collins (R-ME) Maine 38th in population (1990) Chair: Aging
20 Mike Enzi (R-WY) Wyoming 50th in population (1990) Chair: Budget
21 Chuck Schumer (D-NY) January 3, 1999 Former Representative (18 years) Ranking Member: Rules
Democratic Caucus Vice Chair
Democratic Policy Chair
22 Mike Crapo (R-ID) Former Representative (6 years)  
23 Bill Nelson (D-FL) January 3, 2001 Former Representative (12 years) Ranking Member: Commerce
24 Tom Carper (D-DE) Former Representative (10 years) Ranking Member: Homeland Security
25 Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) Former Representative (4 years) Ranking Member: Agriculture
Democratic Policy Vice Chair
26 Maria Cantwell (D-WA) Former Representative (2 years) Ranking Member: Energy
27 Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) December 20, 2002   Chair: Energy
28 Lindsey Graham (R-SC) January 3, 2003 Former Representative  
29 Lamar Alexander (R-TN) Former Cabinet member Chair: HELP
30 John Cornyn[n 4] (R-TX) Majority Whip
31 Richard Burr (R-NC) January 3, 2005 Former Representative (10 years) Chair: Intelligence
32 John Thune (R-SD) Former Representative (6 years) Chair: Commerce
Republican Conference Chair
33 Johnny Isakson (R-GA) Former Representative (5 yrs., 10 mos.) Chair: Veterans' Affairs
Chair: Ethics
34 David Vitter (R-LA) Former Representative (5 yrs., 7 mos.) Chair: Small Business
35 Bob Menendez (D-NJ) January 17, 2006[n 1]
36 Ben Cardin (D-MD) January 3, 2007 Former Representative (20 years) Ranking Member: Foreign Relations
37 Bernie Sanders (I-VT) Former Representative (16 years) Ranking Member: Budget
38 Sherrod Brown (D-OH) Former Representative (14 years) Ranking Member: Banking
39 Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA) Pennsylvania 6th in population (2000)
40 Bob Corker (R-TN) Tennessee 16th in population (2000) Chair: Foreign Relations
41 Claire McCaskill (D-MO) Missouri 17th in population (2000) Ranking Member: Aging
42 Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) Minnesota 21st in population (2000)
43 Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) Rhode Island 43rd in population (2000)
44 Jon Tester (D-MT) Montana 44th in population (2000) Chair: DSCC
Vice Chair: Indian Affairs
45 John Barrasso (R-WY) June 22, 2007 Chair: Indian Affairs
Republican Policy Chair
46 Roger Wicker (R-MS) December 31, 2007[n 1] Chair: NRSC
47 Tom Udall (D-NM) January 3, 2009 Former Representative
48 Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) Former Governor (6 years) Ranking Member: Small Business
49 Mark Warner (D-VA) Former Governor (4 years)
50 Jim Risch (R-ID) Former Governor (7 months)
51 Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
52 Michael Bennet (D-CO) January 21, 2009[n 1]
53 Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) January 26, 2009[n 1]
54 Al Franken (D-MN) July 7, 2009[n 5]
55 Joe Manchin (D-WV) November 15, 2010 Former Governor
56 Chris Coons (D-DE)  
57 Mark Kirk (R-IL) November 29, 2010
58 Dan Coats (R-IN) January 3, 2011 Former Senator[n 6]
59 Roy Blunt (R-MO) Former Representative (14 years) Missouri 17th in population (2000) Chair: Rules
Republican Conference Vice Chair
60 Jerry Moran (R-KS) Kansas 33rd in population (2000)
61 Rob Portman (R-OH) Former Representative (12 years)
62 John Boozman (R-AR) Former Representative (10 years)
63 Pat Toomey (R-PA) Former Representative (6 years)
64 John Hoeven (R-ND) Former Governor
65 Marco Rubio (R-FL) Florida 4th in population (2000)
66 Ron Johnson (R-WI) Wisconsin 20th in population (2000) Chair: Homeland Security
67 Rand Paul (R-KY) Kentucky 25th in population (2000)  
68 Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) Connecticut 29th in population (2000) Ranking Member: Veterans' Affairs
69 Mike Lee (R-UT) Utah 34th in population (2000)
70 Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) New Hampshire 42nd in population (2000)
71 Dean Heller (R-NV) May 9, 2011
72 Brian Schatz (D-HI) December 26, 2012[n 1]
73 Tim Scott (R-SC) January 2, 2013[n 1]
74 Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) January 3, 2013 Former Representative (14 years)
75 Jeff Flake (R-AZ) Former Representative (12 years)
76 Joe Donnelly (D-IN) Former Representative (6 years) Indiana 15th in population (2010)
77 Chris Murphy (D-CT) Connecticut 29th in population (2010)
78 Mazie Hirono (D-HI) Hawaii 40th in population (2010)
79 Martin Heinrich (D-NM) Former Representative (4 years)  
80 Angus King (I-ME) Former Governor (8 years)
81 Tim Kaine (D-VA) Former Governor (4 years)
82 Ted Cruz (R-TX) Texas 2nd in population (2010)
83 Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) Massachusetts 14th in population (2010)
84 Deb Fischer[n 7] (R-NE) Nebraska 38th in population (2010)
85 Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) North Dakota 48th in population (2010)
86 Ed Markey (D-MA) July 16, 2013
87 Cory Booker (D-NJ) October 31, 2013
88 Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) January 3, 2015 Former Representative (14 years)
89 Gary Peters (D-MI) Former Representative (6 years) Michigan 8th in population (2010)
90 Bill Cassidy (R-LA) Louisiana 25th in population (2010)
91 Cory Gardner (R-CO) Former Representative (4 years) Colorado 22nd in population (2010)
92 James Lankford (R-OK) Oklahoma 28th in population (2010)
93 Tom Cotton (R-AR) Former Representative (2 years) Arkansas 32nd in population (2010)
94 Steve Daines (R-MT) Montana 44th in population (2010)
95 Mike Rounds (R-SD) Former Governor
96 David Perdue (R-GA) Georgia 9th in population (2010)
97 Thom Tillis (R-NC) North Carolina 10th in population (2010)
98 Joni Ernst (R-IA) Iowa 30th in population (2010)
99 Ben Sasse (R-NE) Nebraska 38th in population (2010)
100 Dan Sullivan (R-AK) Alaska 47th in population (2010)
Rank Senator Seniority date First tie-breaker Second tie-breaker Committee and leadership positions

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g The seniority date for an appointed senator is the date of the appointment, not necessarily the date of taking the oath of office. See Determining the beginning of a term, above.
  2. ^ Richard Shelby's 1994 party change did not break his service or seniority.
  3. ^ Barbara Boxer (#11) is the Senate's most senior junior senator.
  4. ^ John Cornyn's predecessor, Phil Gramm, resigned early, effective November 30, 2002, so that Senator-elect Cornyn could take office early, and move into Gramm's office suite in order to begin organizing his staff. Cornyn did not, however, gain seniority, owing to a 1980 Rules Committee policy that no longer gave seniority to senators who entered Congress early for the purpose of gaining advantageous office space.
  5. ^ Al Franken was elected to the Senate term that began January 3, 2009, but, due to legal challenges, was not sworn in until July 7, 2009 (see United States Senate election in Minnesota, 2008 for more details). His seniority date is based on the date he was sworn in.[6]
  6. ^ Dan Coats previously served in the Senate from 1989 to 1999.
  7. ^ Deb Fischer (#84) is the Senate's most junior senior senator.


  1. ^ "A Chronological List of United States Senators 1789–present". Senate Historical Office. 
  2. ^ 1981 U.S Census Report Contains 1980 Census results.
  3. ^ 1991 U.S Census Report Contains 1990 Census results.
  4. ^ American FactFinder, United States Census Bureau. "2000 Census State Population Rankings". Retrieved May 28, 2010. 
  5. ^ Resident Population Data (Text Version) - 2010 Census Contains 1910 to 2010 results by state and census region
  6. ^ Rushing, J. Taylor (July 8, 2009). "Franken ranks last in Senate seniority". The Hill. Archived from the original on September 29, 2009. Retrieved September 25, 2009. 

External links[edit]