Classes of United States Senators

Classes of United States Senators

The three classes of United States Senators are currently made up of 33 or 34 Senate seats. The purpose of the classes is to determine which Senate seats will be up for election in a given year. The three groups are staggered so that one of them is up for election every two years.

A senator's description as junior or senior senator is not related to his or her class. Rather, a state's senior senator is the one with the greater seniority in the Senate. This is mostly based on length of service.


Historical division

When the Founding Fathers agreed to give six-year terms to Senators, they also decided to stagger the elections, so that a third of the Senate was up for election every two years. With this staggered turnover, the Founding Fathers wanted to ensure stability in the Senate, and encourage Senators to deliberate measures over time, rather than risk a rapid turnover of the entire chamber every six years. At the same time, they wanted more frequent elections, as oppose to waiting every six years, to prevent Senators from permanently combining for "sinister purposes".[1]

The three classes of the Senate were then specified by Article I, Section 3 of the U. S. Constitution:

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.

This was actually achieved several weeks after the first Senate assembled. From the Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, 1789-1793:

Thursday, May 14, 1789. The committee appointed to consider and report a mode of carrying into effect the provision in the second clause of the third section of the first article of the Constitution, reported:

Whereupon, Resolved, That the Senators be divided into three classes:

That three papers of an equal size, numbered 1, 2, and 3, be, by the Secretary, rolled up and put into a box, and drawn by Mr. Langdon, Mr. Wingate, and Mr. Dalton, in behalf of the respective classes in which each of them are placed; and that the classes shall vacate their seats in the Senate according to the order of numbers drawn for them, beginning with number one: And that, when Senators shall take their seats from States that have not yet appointed Senators, they shall be placed by lot in the foregoing classes, but in such manner as shall keep the classes as nearly equal as may be in numbers.

And from the Journal of Friday, May 15, 1789:

The Senate proceeded to determine the classes, agreeably to the resolve of yesterday, on the mode of carrying into effect the provision of the second clause of the third section of the first article of the constitution, and the numbers being drawn, the classes were determined as follows:

Lot No. 1, drawn by Mr. Dalton, contained Mr. Dalton, Mr. Ellsworth, Mr. Elmer, Mr. Maclay, Mr. Read, Mr. Carroll, and Mr. Grayson, whose seats shall, accordingly, be vacated in the Senate, at the expiration of the second year.

Lot No. 2, drawn by Mr. Wingate, contained Mr. Wingate, Mr. Strong, Mr. Paterson, Mr. Bassett, Mr. Lee, Mr. Butler, and Mr. Few, whose seats shall, accordingly be vacated in the Senate, at the expiration of the fourth year.

Lot No. 3, drawn by Mr. Langdon, contained Mr. Langdon, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Morris, Mr. Henry, Mr. Izard, and Mr. Gunn, whose seats shall, accordingly, be vacated in the Senate, at the expiration of the sixth year.

Upon the expiration of a senator's term of any length, someone starts a new six-year term as senator (based on election by the state legislatures until the Seventeenth Amendment required direct popular election of Senators).

Map shows the classes in each US State:
  Classes 1 and 2
  Classes 1 and 3
  Classes 2 and 3

New states

When a new state is admitted to the Union, its two senators have terms that correspond to those of two different classes, among the three classes defined below. Which two classes is determined by a scheme that keeps the three classes as close to the same size as possible; one that avoids the largest class differing by more than one senator from the smallest class.

This means at least one of any new state's first pair of senators has a term of less than six years, and one term is either two or four years shorter than the other.

When the last state was admitted, Hawaii in 1959, candidates for the Senate ran either for "seat A" or "seat B." The new Senators, in a process managed by the Secretary of the Senate, drew lots to determine which of the two would join the Class 1 (whose term would end in five-and-a-half years), and which would join Class 3 (whose term would end in three-and-a-half years).[2][3]

Should a 51st state be admitted, it would receive senators in Classes 1 and 2, at which point all three Classes would have 34 senators.

Class 1

Class 1 consists of:

States with a Class 1 senator: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Class 2

Class 2 consists of:

  • the 33 current senators whose seats are scheduled for re-election in November 2014, and whose terms end in January 2015; and
  • earlier senators with terms that ended in 1793, 1799, 1805, 1811, 1817, 1823, 1829, 1835, 1841, 1847, 1853, 1859, 1865, 1871, 1877, 1883, 1889, 1895, 1901, 1907, 1913, 1919, 1925, 1931, 1937, 1943, 1949, 1955, 1961, 1967, 1973, 1979, 1985, 1991, 1997, 2003, and 2009.

States with a Class 2 senator: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Class 3

Class 3 consists of:

  • the 34 current senators whose seats are scheduled for re-election in November 2016, and whose terms end in January 2017; and
  • earlier senators with terms that ended in 1795, 1801, 1807, 1813, 1819, 1825, 1831, 1837, 1843, 1849, 1855, 1861, 1867, 1873, 1879, 1885, 1891, 1897, 1903, 1909, 1915, 1921, 1927, 1933, 1939, 1945, 1951, 1957, 1963, 1969, 1975, 1981, 1987, 1993, 1999, 2005, and 2011.

States with a Class 3 senator: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

List of current Senators by Class

  Class 1 Class 2 Class 3 Total
Democratic 21 20 10 51
Republican 10 13 24 47
Independent 2 0 0 2
Last election 2006 2008 2010  
Next election 2012 2014 2016  
TOTAL 33 33 34 100
State Class 1 Class 2 Class 3
Alabama Sessions, JeffJeff Sessions (R) Shelby, RichardRichard Shelby (R)
Alaska Begich, MarkMark Begich (D) Murkowski, LisaLisa Murkowski (R)
Arizona Kyl, JonJon Kyl (R) McCain, JohnJohn McCain (R)
Arkansas Pryor, MarkMark Pryor (D) Boozman, JohnJohn Boozman (R)
California Feinstein, DianneDianne Feinstein (D) Boxer, BarbaraBarbara Boxer (D)
Colorado Udall, MarkMark Udall (D) Bennet, MichaelMichael Bennet (D)
Connecticut Lieberman, JoeJoe Lieberman (I) Blumenthal, RichardRichard Blumenthal (D)
Delaware Carper, TomTom Carper (D) Coons, ChrisChris Coons (D)
Florida Nelson, BillBill Nelson (D) Rubio, MarcoMarco Rubio (R)
Georgia Chambliss, SaxbySaxby Chambliss (R) Isakson, JohnnyJohnny Isakson (R)
Hawaii Akaka, DanielDaniel Akaka (D) Inouye, DanielDaniel Inouye (D)
Idaho Risch, JimJim Risch (R) Crapo, MikeMike Crapo (R)
Illinois Durbin, DickDick Durbin (D) Kirk, MarkMark Kirk (R)
Indiana Lugar, DickDick Lugar (R) Coats, DanDan Coats (R)
Iowa Harkin, TomTom Harkin (D) Grassley, ChuckChuck Grassley (R)
Kansas Roberts, PatPat Roberts (R) Moran, JerryJerry Moran (R)
Kentucky McConnell, MitchMitch McConnell (R) Paul, RandRand Paul (R)
Louisiana Landrieu, MaryMary Landrieu (D) Vitter, DavidDavid Vitter (R)
Maine Snowe, OlympiaOlympia Snowe (R) Collins, SusanSusan Collins (R)
Maryland Cardin, BenBen Cardin (D) Mikulski, BarbaraBarbara Mikulski (D)
Massachusetts Brown, ScottScott Brown (R) Kerry, JohnJohn Kerry (D)
Michigan Stabenow, DebbieDebbie Stabenow (D) Levin, CarlCarl Levin (D)
Minnesota Klobuchar, AmyAmy Klobuchar (D) Franken, AlAl Franken (D)
Mississippi Wicker, RogerRoger Wicker (R) Cochran, ThadThad Cochran (R)
Missouri McCaskill, ClaireClaire McCaskill (D) Blunt, RoyRoy Blunt (R)
Montana Tester, JonJon Tester (D) Baucus, MaxMax Baucus (D)
Nebraska Nelson, BenBen Nelson (D) Johanns, MikeMike Johanns (R)
Nevada Heller, DeanDean Heller (R) Reid, HarryHarry Reid (D)
New Hampshire Shaheen, JeanneJeanne Shaheen (D) Ayotte, KellyKelly Ayotte (R)
New Jersey Menendez, BobBob Menendez (D) Lautenberg, FrankFrank Lautenberg (D)
New Mexico Bingaman, JeffJeff Bingaman (D) Udall, TomTom Udall (D)
New York Gillibrand, KirstenKirsten Gillibrand (D) Schumer, ChuckChuck Schumer (D)
North Carolina Hagan, KayKay Hagan (D) Burr, RichardRichard Burr (R)
North Dakota Conrad, KentKent Conrad (D) Hoeven, JohnJohn Hoeven (R)
Ohio Brown, SherrodSherrod Brown (D) Portman, RobRob Portman (R)
Oklahoma Inhofe, JimJim Inhofe (R) Coburn, TomTom Coburn (R)
Oregon Merkley, JeffJeff Merkley (D) Wyden, RonRon Wyden (D)
Pennsylvania Casey, Bob, Jr.Bob Casey, Jr. (D) Toomey, PatPat Toomey (R)
Rhode Island Whitehouse, SheldonSheldon Whitehouse (D) Reed, JackJack Reed (D)
South Carolina Graham, LindseyLindsey Graham (R) DeMint, JimJim DeMint (R)
South Dakota Johnson, TimTim Johnson (D) Thune, JohnJohn Thune (R)
Tennessee Corker, BobBob Corker (R) Alexander, LamarLamar Alexander (R)
Texas Hutchison, Kay BaileyKay Bailey Hutchison (R) Cornyn, JohnJohn Cornyn (R)
Utah Hatch, OrrinOrrin Hatch (R) Lee, MikeMike Lee (R)
Vermont Sanders, BernieBernie Sanders (I) Leahy, PatrickPatrick Leahy (D)
Virginia Webb, JimJim Webb (D) Warner, MarkMark Warner (D)
Washington Cantwell, MariaMaria Cantwell (D) Murray, PattyPatty Murray (D)
West Virginia Manchin, JoeJoe Manchin (D) Rockefeller, JayJay Rockefeller (D)
Wisconsin Kohl, HerbHerb Kohl (D) Johnson, RonRon Johnson (R)
Wyoming Barrasso, JohnJohn Barrasso (R) Enzi, MikeMike Enzi (R)


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