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ArtI.S3.C3.1 Overview of Senate Qualifications Clause

Article I, Section 3, Clause 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.

Under the Senate Qualifications Clause set forth at Article I, Section 3, Clause 3, Senators must be at least thirty years of age, a citizen for at least nine years, and an inhabitant of the state from which he or she is elected. While the Senate Qualifications Clause expressly requires inhabitancy at the time of the election, Congress has interpreted the Clause to require that Senators meet age and citizenship qualifications only at the time they take the oath of office.1 Pursuant to Article I, Section 5, the Senate determines whether Senators-elect meet the required qualifications to be seated in the Senate.2

During the Constitutional Convention, the Framers adopted a minimum age requirement of thirty to ensure that Senators had sufficient maturity to perform their duties. Similarly, the Framers adopted a nine-year citizenship requirement to ensure that foreign-born Senators were loyal to, and knowledgeable about, the United States. Senate qualification requirements were more strenuous than those for the House, which required only that Members be twenty-five years of age and a citizen for at least seven years.3 Alexander Hamilton explained the disparity in the Senate and House age requirements as due to “the nature of the senatorial trust, which requiring greater extent of information and ability of character, requires at the same time that the senator should have reached a period of life most likely to supply these advantages . . . .” 4

Fixing the appropriate length of citizenship to be a Member of the Senate or House appears to have been the subject of significant debate at the Constitutional Convention, in part, because of the delegates’ different backgrounds. Pennsylvania delegate James Wilson, an immigrant from Scotland, a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, and a future Supreme Court Justice, argued for a minimal citizenship requirement based on his personal experiences of having been precluded from office earlier in his career because of citizenship requirements.5 Other delegates proposed much lengthier terms.6

Having considered terms ranging from four to fourteen years, the Framers’ adoption of a nine-year requirement appears to have compromised conflicting views on the subject. Explaining the adoption of a nine-year term in the Federalist No. 62, Alexander Hamilton wrote: “The term of nine years appears to be a prudent mediocrity between a total exclusion of adopted citizens, whose merits and talents may claim a share in the public confidence, and an indiscriminate and hasty admission of them, which might create a channel for foreign influence in the national councils.” 7 Hamilton stressed the Senate’s role in foreign affairs as further justifying a longer citizenship requirement, stating that “participating immediately in transactions with foreign nations, ought to be exercised by none who are not thoroughly weaned from the prepossessions and habits incident to foreign birth and education.” 8

By adopting an inhabitancy requirement, the Framers sought to ensure that Senators would represent the interests of their states.9 In his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, Justice Joseph Story noted “[I]t is manifestly proper, that a state should be represented by one, who, besides an intimate knowledge of all its wants and wishes, and local pursuits, should have a personal and immediate interest in all measures touching its sovereignty.” 10

S. Res. 155, 79th Cong. (1935). See also 79 Cong. Rec. 9824–42 (June 21, 1935); 9 Cong. Rec. 9651–57 (June 19, 1935). back
U.S. Const. art. I, § 5, cl. 1 ( “Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns, and Qualifications of its own Members.” ). back
U.S. Const. art. I, § 2, cl. 2. back
The Federalist No. 62 (Alexander Hamilton). See also Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States § 726 (1833) (explaining that the Roman senate had similar qualifications). back
Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution 137 (1913). A member of the Continental Congress and a leading legal scholar, James Wilson had immigrated to the colonies in 1765. 1 Collected Works of James Wilson xvi (Kermit L. Hall & Mark David Hall eds., 2007). back
See, e.g., 2 The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, at 243 (1911) (Gouverneur Morris stating: “Foreigners will not learn our laws & Constitution under 14 yrs.—7 yrs must be applied to learn to be a Shoe Maker—14 at least are necessary to learn to be an Amer. Legislator—Again—that period will be requisite to eradicate the Affections of Education and native Attachments—” ). back
The Federalist No. 62 (Alexander Hamilton). back
Id. See also 2 Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States § 728 (1833) (commenting that the citizenship requirement freed a naturalized Senator “from all prejudices, resentments, and partialities, in relation to the land of his nativity” and allowed him to “have acquired a thorough knowledge of the institutions and interests of a country” ). back
The Framers adopted the term “inhabitant” in favor of “resident” because, as understood at that time, “inhabitant” would not, in the words of James Madison, “exclude persons absent occasionally for a considerable time on public or private business.” 2 The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, at 217 (Max Farrand ed., 1911). back
2 Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States § 729 (1833). back