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.

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, 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]

Senator Seniority date First tie-breaker Second tie-breaker Committee and leadership positions
1692 1 Patrick Leahy (D-VT) January 3, 1975 Ranking Member: Judiciary
1708 2 Orrin Hatch (R-UT) January 3, 1977 President pro tempore
Chairman: Finance
1719 3 Thad Cochran (R-MS) December 27, 1978[n 1] Chairman: Appropriations
1745 4 Chuck Grassley (R-IA) January 3, 1981 Chairman: Judiciary
1766 5 Mitch McConnell (R-KY) January 3, 1985 Majority Leader
1773 6 Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) January 3, 1987 Former Representative (10 years) Ranking Member: Appropriations
1775 7 Richard Shelby (R[n 2]-AL) Former Representative (8 years) Chairman: Banking
1777 8 John McCain (R-AZ) Former Representative (4 years) Arizona 29th in population (1980) Chairman: Armed Services
1778 9 Harry Reid (D-NV) Nevada 43rd in population (1980) Minority Leader
Democratic Caucus Chair
1801 10 Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) November 4, 1992     Ranking Member: Intelligence
1804 11 Barbara Boxer[n 3] (D-CA) January 3, 1993 Former Representative Ranking Member: Environment
Vice Chairwoman: Ethics
1810 12 Patty Murray (D-WA) Ranking Member: HELP
Democratic Caucus Secretary
1816 13 Jim Inhofe (R-OK) November 16, 1994 Chairman: Environment
1827 14 Ron Wyden (D-OR) February 6, 1996 Ranking Member: Finance
1830 15 Pat Roberts (R-KS) January 3, 1997 Former Representative (16 years) Chairman: Agriculture
1831 16 Dick Durbin (D-IL) Former Representative (14 years) Minority Whip
1835 17 Jack Reed (D-RI) Former Representative (6 years) Ranking Member: Armed Services
1839 18 Jeff Sessions (R-AL) Alabama 22nd in population (1990)  
1842 19 Susan Collins (R-ME) Maine 38th in population (1990) Chairwoman: Aging
1843 20 Mike Enzi (R-WY) Wyoming 50th in population (1990) Chairman: Budget
1844 21 Chuck Schumer (D-NY) January 3, 1999 Former Representative (18 years) Ranking Member: Rules
Democratic Caucus Vice Chair
Democratic Policy Chair
1846 22 Mike Crapo (R-ID) Former Representative (6 years)  
1854 23 Bill Nelson (D-FL) January 3, 2001 Former Representative (12 years) Ranking Member: Commerce
1855 24 Tom Carper (D-DE) Former Representative (10 years) Ranking Member: Homeland Security
1856 25 Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) Former Representative (4 years) Ranking Member: Agriculture
Democratic Policy Vice Chair
1859 26 Maria Cantwell (D-WA) Former Representative (2 years) Ranking Member: Energy
1873 27 Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) December 20, 2002   Chairman: Energy
1867 28 Lindsey Graham (R-SC) January 3, 2003 Former Representative  
1869 29 Lamar Alexander (R-TN) Former Cabinet member Chairman: HELP
1871 30 John Cornyn[n 4] (R-TX)| Majority Whip
1876 31 Richard Burr (R-NC) January 3, 2005 Former Representative (10 years) Chairman: Intelligence
1879 32 John Thune (R-SD) Former Representative (6 years) Chairman: Commerce
Republican Conference Chair
1880 33 Johnny Isakson (R-GA) Former Representative (5 yrs., 10 mos.) Chairman: Veterans' Affairs
Chairman: Ethics
1881 34 David Vitter (R-LA) Former Representative (5 yrs., 7 mos.) Chairman: Small Business
1885 35 Bob Menendez (D-NJ) January 17, 2006[n 1]  
1886 36 Ben Cardin (D-MD) January 3, 2007 Former Representative (20 years) Ranking Member: Foreign Relations
1887 37 Bernie Sanders (I-VT) Former Representative (16 years) Ranking Member: Budget
1888 38 Sherrod Brown (D-OH) Former Representative (14 years) Ranking Member: Banking
1890 39 Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA) Pennsylvania 6th in population (2000)  
1891 40 Bob Corker (R-TN) Tennessee 16th in population (2000) Chairman: Foreign Relations
1892 41 Claire McCaskill (D-MO) Missouri 17th in population (2000) Ranking Member: Aging
1893 42 Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) Minnesota 21st in population (2000)
1894 43 Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) Rhode Island 43rd in population (2000)
1895 44 Jon Tester (D-MT) Montana 44th in population (2000) Chairman: DSCC
Vice Chairman: Indian Affairs
1896 45 John Barrasso (R-WY) June 22, 2007 Chairman: Indian Affairs
Republican Policy Chair
1897 46 Roger Wicker (R-MS) December 31, 2007[n 1] Chairman: NRSC
1899 47 Tom Udall (D-NM) January 3, 2009 Former Representative  
1901 48 Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) Former Governor (6 years) Ranking Member: Small Business
1902 49 Mark Warner (D-VA) Former Governor (4 years)
1903 50 Jim Risch (R-ID) Former Governor (7 months)
1905 51 Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
1909 52 Michael Bennet (D-CO) January 21, 2009[n 1]
1910 53 Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) January 26, 2009[n 1]
1911 54 Al Franken (D-MN) July 7, 2009[n 5]
1916 55 Joe Manchin (D-WV) November 15, 2010 Former Governor
1917 56 Chris Coons (D-DE)  
1918 57 Mark Kirk (R-IL) November 29, 2010
1785[8] 58 Dan Coats (R-IN) January 3, 2011 Former Senator[n 6]
1919 59 Roy Blunt (R-MO) Former Representative (14 years) Missouri 17th in population (2000) Chairman: Rules
Republican Conference Vice Chairman
1920 60 Jerry Moran (R-KS) Kansas 33rd in population (2000)
1921 61 Rob Portman (R-OH) Former Representative (12 years)
1922 62 John Boozman (R-AR) Former Representative (10 years)
1923 63 Pat Toomey (R-PA) Former Representative (6 years)
1924 64 John Hoeven (R-ND) Former Governor
1925 65 Marco Rubio (R-FL) Florida 4th in population (2000)
1926 66 Ron Johnson (R-WI) Wisconsin 20th in population (2000) Chairman: Homeland Security
1927 67 Rand Paul (R-KY) Kentucky 25th in population (2000)  
1928 68 Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) Connecticut 29th in population (2000) Ranking Member: Veterans' Affairs
1929 69 Mike Lee (R-UT) Utah 34th in population (2000)  
1930 70 Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) New Hampshire 42nd in population (2000)
1931 71 Dean Heller (R-NV) May 9, 2011
1932 72 Brian Schatz (D-HI) December 26, 2012[n 1]
1933 73 Tim Scott (R-SC) January 2, 2013[n 1]
1934 74 Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) January 3, 2013 Former Representative (14 years)
1935 75 Jeff Flake (R-AZ) Former Representative (12 years)
1936 76 Joe Donnelly (D-IN) Former Representative (6 years) Indiana 15th in population (2010)
1937 77 Chris Murphy (D-CT) Connecticut 29th in population (2010)
1938 78 Mazie Hirono (D-HI) Hawaii 40th in population (2010)
1939 79 Martin Heinrich (D-NM) Former Representative (4 years)  
1940 80 Angus King (I-ME) Former Governor (8 years)
1941 81 Tim Kaine (D-VA) Former Governor (4 years)
1942 82 Ted Cruz (R-TX) Texas 2nd in population (2010)
1943 83 Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) Massachusetts 14th in population (2010)
1944 84 Deb Fischer[n 7] (R-NE) Nebraska 38th in population (2010)
1945 85 Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) North Dakota 48th in population (2010)
1948 86 Ed Markey (D-MA) July 16, 2013
1949 87 Cory Booker (D-NJ) October 31, 2013
1951 88 Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) January 3, 2015 Former Representative (14 years)
1952 89 Gary Peters (D-MI) Former Representative (6 years) Michigan 8th in population (2010)
1953 90 Bill Cassidy (R-LA) Louisiana 25th in population (2010)
1954 91 Cory Gardner (R-CO) Former Representative (4 years) Colorado 22nd in population (2010)
1955 92 James Lankford (R-OK) Oklahoma 28th in population (2010)
1956 93 Tom Cotton (R-AR) Former Representative (2 years) Arkansas 32nd in population (2010)
1957 94 Steve Daines (R-MT) Montana 44th in population (2010)
1958 95 Mike Rounds (R-SD) Former Governor
1959 96 David Perdue (R-GA) Georgia 9th in population (2010)
1960 97 Thom Tillis (R-NC) North Carolina 10th in population (2010)
1961 98 Joni Ernst (R-IA) Iowa 30th in population (2010)
1962 99 Ben Sasse (R-NE) Nebraska 38th in population (2010)
1963 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.[7]
  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. ^ "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. 
  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. 
  8. ^ Coats previously served as a U.S. Senator.

External links[edit]