The Congress
Preserving our Institutions

Wednesday, 4 June, 2003

‘Constitutional Amendment Needed to Preserve Continuity of Congress,’
Says New Commission Report

Washington, D.C.--A new report, released today by the AEI-Brookings Continuity of Government Commission, recommends Congress adopt a constitutional amendment to ensure that the House of Representatives and Senate could reconstitute quickly in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. The Continuity of Government Commission spent a year examining if and how the institution of Congress could survive after a catastrophic attack. Later reports will deal with the continuity of the executive branch and the courts.

The recommendations in the initial report include:

Pass a concise constitutional amendment giving Congress the authority to provide by legislation for temporary appointments to fill vacancies due to death or incapacitation after a catastrophic attack. Under current constitutional provisions, should a horrible kill event a large number of members of Congress, there is no quick way to reconstitute the House of Representatives. (The Seventeenth Amendment provides for temporary appointment to fill vacancies in the Senate due to deaths, but this does not apply in the House.) The Constitution states members of the House of Representatives must be replaced by special election, which can take months. Waiting for special elections would leave Congress rudderless in a time of national emergency. Also, under current constitutional provisions, there is no way to fill vacancies due to the temporary incapacitation of members of the House and Senate.

If a large number of members are killed or incapacitated, the Commission believes temporary replacements must be made immediately. The procedures detailing precisely how to accomplish this should be written into legislation, after the Constitution is amended to give Congress the authority to enact such a law. Temporary appointments could be made by gubernatorial appointment (as in the Senate). Another option is for members to draw up a list of possible replacements. The governor of the state could choose a replacement from the list.

A constitutional amendment must pass by a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress and be ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures.

Clarify the quorum requirement, but not as a substitute for a constitutional amendment. The current interpretation in the House and Senate rulings that a majority of the living members constitutes a quorum does not square with the constitutional quorum requirement of a majority of the whole body.

“It is for good reason that many people, including members of our commission, loathe to tinker with the Constitution. After the Bill of Rights, it has only been amended seventeen times, one of those amendments was later changed. Yet, there is no way the Framers could have imagined a scenario where weapons would exist capable of destroying the entire Congress and the people who work there. We must act to ensure the institutions of our government could survive any attack, even if the buildings and the people who work there do not,” said Commission co-chair Lloyd Cutler.

The Continuity of Government Commission is a joint effort of the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution. The Commission was launched in September 2002. It held two public hearings and met several times in the past year. Lloyd Cutler, who served as White House Counsel to Presidents Carter and Clinton, and former Sen. Alan Simpson co­chair the Commission.

Other members of the Commission include: Philip Chase Bobbitt, Kenneth Duberstein, Thomas Foley, Charles Fried, Newt Gingrich, Jamie Gorelick, Nicholas deB. Katzenbach, Robert Katzmann, Lynn Martin, Kweisi Mfume, Robert Michel, Leon Panetta and Donna E. Shalala. See the attached report for a dossier of each commissioner. For more information about the commission, please visit

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