WASHINGTON, D.C.— M. Miller Baker, a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of McDermott Will & Emery, testified before the House Subcommittee on the Constitution on February 28, 2002, regarding a proposed constitutional amendment (H.J. Res. 67) which would allow state governors to make interim appointments to fill House vacancies in the event that a terrorist attack or other catastrophe caused widespread vacancies in the House of Representatives. Under current law, House vacancies may only be filled by special elections.
In his testimony, Mr. Baker suggested to the committee that the amendment in question was generally a sound concept, but also urged Congress to examine the laws governing presidential succession. Mr. Baker explained that in the event of a catastrophe that killed or disabled the President, the Vice President, and most members of Congress, existing law allowed a handful of surviving members of Congress not only to exercise full legislative powers, but to displace any cabinet officer serving as Acting President with a newly elected Speaker or President pro tempore of the Senate. Representative Brian Baird (D-WA), the sponsor of H.J. Res. 67, was unaware of the problems in the presidential succession mechanism prior to Mr. Baker’s testimony. Since Mr. Baker’s testimony, the Washington Post and CNN have reported that Rep. Baird has asked the congressional leadership to establish a joint House-Senate task force to examine presidential succession issues, and that House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) has agreed with Rep. Baird's suggestion. In an op-ed published last week in the Wall Street Journal, Norman Ornstein cited Mr. Baker’s congressional testimony and urged Congress to reexamine the laws governing presidential succession.
Mr. Baker served as counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee and in the Reagan Justice Department. He concentrates his practice on complex trial and appellate litigation with an emphasis on constitutional, insurance coverage and intellectual property matters. He also counsels clients on Federal Election Campaign Act compliance, government ethics and public policy issues.