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The Annenberg Guide to the United States Constitution

Article I, Section 3

The Text

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, [chosen by the Legislature thereof,]2 for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.

Immediately after they shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three Classes. The Seats of the Senators of the first Class shall be vacated at the Expiration of the second Year, of the second Class at the Expiration of the fourth Year, and of the third Class at the Expiration of the sixth Year, so that one-third may be chosen every second Year; [and if Vacancies happen by Resignation, or otherwise, during the Recess of the Legislature of any State, the Executive thereof may make temporary Appointments until the next Meeting of the Legislature, which shall then fill such Vacancies.]3

No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.

The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.

The Senate shall choose their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the Absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States.

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two-thirds of the Members present.

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

2Modified by Amendment XVII.
3Modified by Amendment XVII.

The Meaning

The Senate, which now has 100 members, has two senators from each state. Until 1913, senators were elected by their state legislatures. But since the adoption of Amendment XVII, senators have been elected directly by the voters of their states. To be a senator, a person must be more than 30 years old, must have been an American citizen for at least nine years, and must live in the state he or she represents. Senators may serve for an unlimited number of six-year terms.

Senatorial elections are held on a staggered basis so that one-third of the Senate is elected every two years. If a senator leaves office before the end of his or her term, Amendment XVII provides that the governor of his or her state sets the time for an election to replace that person. The state legislature may authorize the governor to temporarily fill the vacant seat.

The vice president of the United States is also the president of the Senate. He or she normally has no vote, but may vote in a tiebreaker if the Senate is divided on a proposed bill or nomination. The Senate also chooses officers to lead them through their work. One is the president pro tempore (president for a time), who presides over the Senate when the vice president is not available and, as is the Speaker of the House, is in the line of succession should the president or the vice president be unable to serve.

Although the House of Representatives brings charges of impeachment to remove a president, vice president or other civil officer, such as a federal judge, it is the Senate that is responsible for conducting the trial and deciding whether the individual is to be removed from office. The chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court presides over the impeachment trial of a president. The senators act as the jury and two-thirds of those present must vote for removal from office. Once an official is removed, he or she may still be prosecuted criminally or sued, just like any other citizen.