Conflict Between Montana Statute and US Constitution on Filling House Seat

Dec 16, 2016

US Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-MT

When  US Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-MT, accepts the appointment as Interior Secretary in President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet and is confirmed, then the process begins to fill his House seat.

The open seat will ultimately filled by a special election. But there is disagreement between Montana statute and the US Constitution and the House of Representatives on some of the details.

David Parker, political science professor at Montana State University in Bozeman, says there is  agreement on what happens after Zinke formally announces he's quitting, probably after confirmation.

“Once it happens the governor will call for a special election the two parties would then appoint their candidates and then we would have a special election, probably some time in the spring or early summer,” Parker says.

But  Montana statute states the governor could appoint a temporary replacement congressman to fill the seat until the special election is held.

“And here’s the problem,” says Parker. “According to the Constitution the qualifications for the House of Representatives are fixed and the people must  choose their representative, which means nearly every other case I can think of, and I cannot think of a single case where there is been an appointment to the House for a temporary position.”

That means  the seat is vacant until filled by the special election.

Parker thinks a solution to the conflict between state statute and the Constitution is for the Montana Legislature, which convenes next month, to have someone put worth a bill to change the language and get rid of it.