Frank Lautenberg, RIP

Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, the last World War II veteran serving in the Senate, passed away today at the age of 89.

New Jersey law provides:

19:3-26. Vacancies in United States senate; election to fill; temporary appointment by governor.

19:3-26. If a vacancy shall happen in the representation of this State in the United States senate, it shall be filled at the general election next succeeding the happening thereof, unless such vacancy shall happen within 70 days next preceding such election, in which case it shall be filled by election at the second succeeding general election, unless the governor of this State shall deem it advisable to call a special election therefor, which he is authorized hereby to do.

The governor of this State may make a temporary appointment of a senator of the United States from this State whenever a vacancy shall occur by reason of any cause other than the expiration of the term; and such appointee shall serve as such senator until a special election or general election shall have been held pursuant to law and the Board of State Canvassers can deliver to his successor a certificate of election.

Note that if Attorney General Wirt’s definition of “happen” were to be applied to this statute, a vacancy would continue to “happen” until it was filled. In that case Governor Christie could wait until October to fill the vacancy, and the election to fill the remaining portion of Senator Lautenberg’s term (which ends in January 2015) could be delayed until November 2014.

However, it seems clear that “the happening” of the vacancy, at least within the meaning of the New Jersey law, refers to the specific date on which the vacancy occurs, rather than any date during which it continues to exist. Therefore, the election to fill the vacancy must occur at “the general election next succeeding” the occurrence of the vacancy, which will be in November 2013 (when New Jersey will be holding statewide elections).

This Hill article suggests that the Governor can choose to set a special election date to fill the seat. As I read the statute, he would only have that option if the vacancy happened within 70 days prior to the next general election. Therefore, I believe that the election must take place this November. But I could be wrong.