Seniority in the United States Senate

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Seniority in the United States Senate is valuable as it confers a number of benefits 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.

The president pro tempore of the Senate is traditionally the most senior member of the majority party.

There are several benefits, 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. 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 of Senators taking vacant seats in special elections, the term begins on Election Day.[citation needed] However, in both of these cases, if the incoming Senator is a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives at the time, he/she must resign from the House before her/his term in the Senate begins.

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, seniority is determined by prior federal or state government service. These tiebreakers in order are:[1]

  1. Former Senator
  2. Former Vice President
  3. Former House member
  4. Former Cabinet secretary
  5. Former state Governor
  6. Population of state based on the most recent census when the senator took office
  7. 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, Richard Shelby and John McCain both took office on January 3, 1987, and each had previously served in the House of Representatives. Shelby, having served 8 years, is more senior than McCain, who served 4.

Current seniority list[edit]

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]

  Republican R (52)       Democratic D (46)       Independent I (2)

Seniority date First tie-breaker Second tie-breaker Committee and leadership positions
1 1692 Patrick Leahy
January 3, 1975 Ranking Member: Appropriations
President pro tempore emeritus
2 1708 Orrin Hatch
January 3, 1977 President pro tempore
Chair: Finance
3 1719 Thad Cochran
December 27, 1978[n 1] Chair: Appropriations
4 1745 Chuck Grassley
January 3, 1981 Chair: Judiciary
5 1766 Mitch McConnell
January 3, 1985 Majority Leader
6 1775 Richard Shelby
R-Alabama[n 2]
January 3, 1987 Former Representative (8 years) Chair: Rules
7 1777 John McCain
Former Representative (4 years) Chair: Armed Services
8 1801 Dianne Feinstein
November 4, 1992 Ranking Member: Judiciary
9 1810 Patty Murray
January 3, 1993 Ranking Member: HELP
Assistant Minority Leader
10 1816 Jim Inhofe
November 16, 1994  
11 1827 Ron Wyden
February 6, 1996 Ranking Member: Finance
12 1830 Pat Roberts
January 3, 1997 Former Representative (16 years) Chair: Agriculture
13 1831 Dick Durbin
Former Representative (14 years) Minority Whip
14 1835 Jack Reed
D-Rhode Island
Former Representative (6 years) Ranking Member: Armed Services
15 1842 Susan Collins
Maine 38th in population (1990) Chair: Aging
16 1843 Mike Enzi
Wyoming 50th in population (1990) Chair: Budget
17 1844 Chuck Schumer
D-New York
January 3, 1999 Former Representative (18 years) Minority Leader
18 1846 Mike Crapo
Former Representative (6 years) Chair: Banking
19 1854 Bill Nelson
January 3, 2001 Former Representative (12 years) Ranking Member: Commerce
20 1855 Tom Carper
Former Representative (10 years) Ranking Member: Environment
21 1856 Debbie Stabenow
Former Representative (4 years) Ranking Member: Agriculture
Democratic Policy Committee Chair
22 1859 Maria Cantwell[n 3]
Former Representative (2 years) Ranking Member: Energy
23 1873 Lisa Murkowski
December 20, 2002[n 1]   Chair: Energy
24 1867 Lindsey Graham
R-South Carolina
January 3, 2003 Former Representative  
25 1869 Lamar Alexander
Former Cabinet member Chair: HELP
26 1871 John Cornyn[n 4]
Majority Whip
27 1876 Richard Burr
R-North Carolina
January 3, 2005 Former Representative (10 years) Chair: Intelligence
28 1879 John Thune
R-South Dakota
Former Representative (6 years) Chair: Commerce
Republican Conference Chair
29 1880 Johnny Isakson
Former Representative (5 yrs., 10 mos.) Chair: Veterans' Affairs
Chair: Ethics
30 1885 Bob Menendez
D-New Jersey
January 17, 2006[n 1]  
31 1886 Ben Cardin
January 3, 2007 Former Representative (20 years) Ranking Member: Foreign Relations
32 1887 Bernie Sanders
I-Vermont[n 5]
Former Representative (16 years) Ranking Member: Budget
33 1888 Sherrod Brown
Former Representative (14 years) Ranking Member: Banking
34 1890 Bob Casey Jr.
Pennsylvania 6th in population (2000) Ranking Member: Aging
35 1891 Bob Corker
Tennessee 16th in population (2000) Chair: Foreign Relations
36 1892 Claire McCaskill
Missouri 17th in population (2000) Ranking Member: Homeland Security
37 1893 Amy Klobuchar
Minnesota 21st in population (2000) Ranking Member: Rules
38 1894 Sheldon Whitehouse
D-Rhode Island
Rhode Island 43rd in population (2000)
39 1895 Jon Tester
Montana 44th in population (2000) Ranking Member: Veterans' Affairs
40 1896 John Barrasso
June 22, 2007 Chair: Environment
Republican Policy Committee Chair
41 1897 Roger Wicker
December 31, 2007[n 1]
42 1899 Tom Udall
D-New Mexico
January 3, 2009 Former Representative Vice Chair: Indian Affairs
43 1901 Jeanne Shaheen
D-New Hampshire
Former Governor (6 years) Ranking Member: Small Business
44 1902 Mark Warner
Former Governor (4 years) Vice Chair: Intelligence
Democratic Caucus Vice Chair
45 1903 Jim Risch
Former Governor (7 months) Chair: Small Business
46 1905 Jeff Merkley
47 1909 Michael Bennet
January 21, 2009[n 1]
48 1910 Kirsten Gillibrand
D-New York
January 26, 2009[n 1]
49 1911 Al Franken
July 7, 2009[n 6]
50 1916 Joe Manchin
D-West Virginia
November 15, 2010 Former Governor
51 1917 Chris Coons
Vice Chair: Ethics
52 1919 Roy Blunt
January 3, 2011 Former Representative (14 years) Missouri 17th in population (2000) Republican Conference Vice Chair
53 1920 Jerry Moran
Kansas 33rd in population (2000)
54 1921 Rob Portman
Former Representative (12 years)
55 1922 John Boozman
Former Representative (10 years)
56 1923 Pat Toomey
Former Representative (6 years)
57 1924 John Hoeven
R-North Dakota
Former Governor Chair: Indian Affairs
58 1925 Marco Rubio
Florida 4th in population (2000)
59 1926 Ron Johnson
Wisconsin 20th in population (2000) Chair: Homeland Security
60 1927 Rand Paul
Kentucky 25th in population (2000)
61 1928 Richard Blumenthal
Connecticut 29th in population (2000)
62 1929 Mike Lee
Utah 34th in population (2000)
63 1931 Dean Heller
May 9, 2011
64 1932 Brian Schatz
December 26, 2012[n 1]
65 1933 Tim Scott
R-South Carolina
January 2, 2013[n 1]
66 1934 Tammy Baldwin
January 3, 2013 Former Representative (14 years) Democratic Caucus Secretary
67 1935 Jeff Flake
Former Representative (12 years)
68 1936 Joe Donnelly
Former Representative (6 years) Indiana 15th in population (2010)
69 1937 Chris Murphy
Connecticut 29th in population (2010)
70 1938 Mazie Hirono
Hawaii 40th in population (2010)
71 1939 Martin Heinrich
D-New Mexico
Former Representative (4 years)  
72 1940 Angus King
Former Governor (8 years)
73 1941 Tim Kaine
Former Governor (4 years)
74 1942 Ted Cruz
Texas 2nd in population (2010)
75 1943 Elizabeth Warren
Massachusetts 14th in population (2010) Democratic Caucus Vice Chair
76 1944 Deb Fischer
Nebraska 38th in population (2010)
77 1945 Heidi Heitkamp
D-North Dakota
North Dakota 48th in population (2010)
78 1948 Ed Markey
July 16, 2013
79 1949 Cory Booker
D-New Jersey
October 31, 2013
80 1951 Shelley Moore Capito
R-West Virginia
January 3, 2015 Former Representative (14 years)
81 1952 Gary Peters
Former Representative (6 years) Michigan 8th in population (2010)
82 1953 Bill Cassidy[n 7]
Louisiana 25th in population (2010)
83 1954 Cory Gardner
Former Representative (4 years) Colorado 22nd in population (2010) NRSC Chair
84 1955 James Lankford
Oklahoma 28th in population (2010)
85 1956 Tom Cotton
Former Representative (2 years) Arkansas 32nd in population (2010)
86 1957 Steve Daines
Montana 44th in population (2010)
87 1958 Mike Rounds
R-South Dakota
Former Governor
88 1959 David Perdue
Georgia 9th in population (2010)
89 1960 Thom Tillis
R-North Carolina
North Carolina 10th in population (2010)
90 1961 Joni Ernst
Iowa 30th in population (2010)
91 1962 Ben Sasse
Nebraska 38th in population (2010)
92 1963 Dan Sullivan
Alaska 47th in population (2010)
93 1964 Chris Van Hollen
January 3, 2017 Former Representative (14 years) DSCC Chair
94 1965 Todd Young
Former Representative (6 years)
95 1966 Tammy Duckworth
Former Representative (4 years)
96 1967 Maggie Hassan
D-New Hampshire
Former Governor
97 1968 Kamala Harris
California 1st in population (2010)
98 1969 John Neely Kennedy
Louisiana 25th in population (2010)
99 1970 Catherine Cortez Masto
Nevada 35th in population (2010)
100 1971 Luther Strange
February 9, 2017[n 1]
Rank Historical
Seniority date First tie-breaker Second tie-breaker Committee and leadership positions

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i 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. ^ Maria Cantwell (#22) 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. ^ Although Sanders was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President in 2016, and has voted with the Democratic Party for organizational purposes throughout his time in Congress, he has never been a Democratic Senator.
  6. ^ 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.[7]
  7. ^ Bill Cassidy (#82) is the Senate's most junior senior senator.


  1. ^ a b "Senators of the United States 1789-present, A chronological list of senators since the First Congress in 1789" (PDF). Senate Historical Office. April 17, 2015. Retrieved August 8, 2015. 
  2. ^ "1981 U.S Census Report" (PDF). 
  3. ^ "1991 U.S Census Report" (PDF). 
  4. ^ American FactFinder, United States Census Bureau. "2000 Census State Population Rankings". Retrieved May 28, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Resident Population Data (Text Version) - 2010 Census, by state and census region". 
  6. ^ "Historical rank" refers to the Senator's seniority over the entire history of the Senate since 1789. This is an absolute number that does not change from one Congress to the next.
  7. ^ 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.