What is the United States Senate?

The Senate is one of the two houses of the Congress of the United States, the country’s legislature. The Senate was established in 1789 with its composition and powers created under Article One of the United States Constitution.

The composition of each state is composed of two senators representing each state and serves for the six-year term. The Senate building can be found on the Capitol’s north wing in Washington, D.C. while The House of Representatives convenes in the south wing. The United States Senate has over the years earned the nickname as “the house that never dies” because of the terms of almost `one-third of the members of the Senate expires in every two years.

For instance, at the date of this post, Hawaii has two Senators in the United States Senate, Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono of whom took office in December 2012 and January 2013 respectively. The next election for their position is in 2016 and 2018 respectively.

Qualifications for Senators 

Under the Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution, there are three sets of qualifications in an election of senators. First, they must be at least 30 years of age. Second, they must be a citizen of the Unites States of America at least 9 years and lastly, they must be residents of the state to which they intend to represent at the time of the election.

The Powers of the Senate 

The role of the Senate was conceived in order to check on the elected House of Representatives. The Senate, however, has some exclusive powers that are not granted to the House of Representatives. Senate’s role has made it possible for each state no matter what the size or their population is represented equally. Until the time of the Constitution’s Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, the Senate’s election was indirect but now they are elected directly by each state’s voters.

The Senate is given special important powers under the Constitutions’ “advice and consent” provisions of the Article II, Section 2. Under this provision:

  • The ramification of treaties, the Senate requires two-thirds of the majority number of the senators.
  • Majority of the number of senators is needed in approval of important public appointments  such as cabinet members, Supreme Court judges, and ambassadors
  • A two-thirds majority vote is needed for a conviction in impeachment proceedings adjudicated by the Senate.

Compared to the House of Representatives, the Senate is considered as more purposeful and prestigious. This is due to the Senate being smaller in size, with longer terms and the fact that its constituents are statewide. These characteristics of the Senate have led to its being deemed to have a more mutually respectful and less adherent atmosphere.

Similar to the House of Representatives, the Senate shares the responsibility for lawmaking all within the United States. The U.S.’s legislative body is bicameral and with that, an act of Congress can only be deemed valid unless both houses, the House of Representatives and Senate, must approve for it. Only if the two houses have to approve of an identical document can a bill enacted.

It is the Vice President that serves as the president of the Senate, but he can only vote in times where there is a tie between the members. On the other hand, a president pro tempore is appointed in his absence as the Senate’s presiding officer.

Leave a Reply