Classes of United States Senators

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Classes of US Senators
United States Senate
Current Majority Leader Harry Reid
Current Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
Current Senate President Dick Cheney
Current Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Byrd

The three classes of US Senators, each currently including 33 or 34 Senators (since Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959, and until another state is admitted), are a means used by the United States Senate for describing the schedules of Senate seats' elections, and of the expiration of the terms of office of the Senators holding the respective seats.


Historical division

The U.S. Constitution specifies staggered 6-year terms for Senators, and there are special provisions for getting a new state into a situation that makes that pattern continue automatically:

  • around the time of the first federal elections, in 1788, each state appointed its two Senators for, respectively,
    • Class I: a two-year and a six-year term,
    • Class II: a four-year and a six-year term,
    • Class III: a two-year and a four-year term,
  • upon the expiration of a Senator's term of any length, someone starts a new six-year term as Senator (based on appointment in most states, until the Seventeenth Amendment required direct popular election of Senators);
  • 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, i.e., that avoids any class differing by more than one from the minimum-sized class.

(This means at least one of a 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.)


Class I

Class I consists of

Class II

Class II consists of

Class III

Class III consists of



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