Langevin Urges States to Develop Doomsday Succession Procedures

Oct 2, 2002
(Washington, D.C.)–Congressman Jim Langevin today will join his colleagues in supporting a resolution, of which he is an original co-sponsor, that calls upon states to develop a continuity plan in the event of catastrophic loss of life due to a terrorist attack or other disaster impacting Congress.  Presently, Rhode Island’s special elections law is vague and does not set a particular time frame in which to replace House members and maintain effective government operations.

 The resolution is the first formal recommendation to come out of the Continuity of Congress Working Group, of which Langevin is a member.  It encourages states to examine existing statutes, practices, and procedures governing special elections.  The resolution further urges Governors and State Representatives to amend their election laws so that, in the event of a catastrophe, vacancies in the House of Representatives could be filled in a timely fashion, providing near seamless representation of individual states.

 “The Constitution declares that members of the House must be popularly elected,” Langevin will state from the House floor later today.  “However, the specter of terrorism - notably reports that the Capitol was an intended target on September 11 - reminds us that mass casualties in Washington or elsewhere could have a detrimental effect on the representative nature of the House and its ability to fulfill its duties.  Unfortunately, states have vastly different methods and timelines for filling vacant House seats, which could pose a serious problem in the event of a catastrophe.”

 Rhode Island general laws state simply, “The Governor shall immediately issue a writ of election ordering a new election as early as possible.”  Today’s resolution would address such problems by encouraging states to review their special elections procedures to ensure that House vacancies are filled as expeditiously as possible.

 The issue of member succession is one that need only be addressed by the House.  In the Senate, Governors quickly fill vacancies by appointment, but in the House, vacancies can last many months because the Constitution requires that vacancies be filled by elections, the date of which is left up to each state.

 “Clearly, the United States is vulnerable to terrorist attack, and we must have the mechanisms in place to ensure congressional business is uninterrupted should the capital city come under attack,” added Langevin.   “While I hope such a plan would never need to be put into action, we must prepare for any contingency as the United States continues to wage war on global terrorism while safeguarding our citizens at home.”

Langevin has introduced HR 5007, “The Ensuring Congressional Security and Continuity Act,” which calls for the investigation of alternatives to conducting Congressional business in and around the United States Capitol. 

Specifically, Langevin envisions that in the event a quorum of Congress could not be present in a single location to conduct congressional business, members could instead utilize an Internet- and/or satellite-based communications system.  A member could log on with secure, biometrics technology from anywhere in the world to acknowledge that he or she is not incapacitated and provide his or her physical location.  This system would also provide members with critical information on pending government activity and response to the attack or disaster and would allow critical business to be conducted away from Washington if necessary.