Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate

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Author: Robert J. Dole  | Date: December 13, 1940

Prospective Chairmen With Equal Seniority

On December 13, 1940, two senators conducted a quiet struggle for the soon-to-be-vacant position as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Never before had two men with exactly equal seniority contended for a committee chairmanship.

Incumbent chairman Henry F. Ashurst had been defeated for reelection to the Senate. The next most senior majority member of the committee, Matthew Neely, had been elected governor of West Virginia and planned to resign from the Senate early in January.

The Congressional Directory of 1940 listed Senator Patrick McCarran of Nevada as the next ranking majority member of the committee. His name was followed by Senator Frederick Van Nuys of Indiana Both men had entered the Senate on March 3, 1933. At that time, McCarran, whose name came earlier in the alphabet, took his Senate oath several minutes ahead of Van Nuys. Both men were appointed to the Judiciary Committee on the same day, although Van Nuys’ name appeared before that of McCarran on the list of recommended new members. From 1933 until 1937, the Indiana senator was listed ahead of McCarran on the Congressional Directory’s roster of committee members. Then, in 1938, the order of their names was mysteriously reversed.

As 1940 drew to a close, Majority Leader Alben Barkley privately urged both men to settle the contest informally. Neither chose to do so. Consequently, the Democratic Steering Committee was obliged to make the choice The committee selected Van Nuys, presumably because his state of Indiana entered the Union before Nevada. Van Nuys chaired the Judiciary Committee for three years, until his death in 1944. Then McCarran got his turn and served for most of the following decade.

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Chicago: Robert J. Dole, "Prospective Chairmen With Equal Seniority," Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress (Washington, D.C.: U.S Government Printing Office, 1989), in Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L229P4XZ2YZ1YNV.

MLA: Dole, Robert J. "Prospective Chairmen With Equal Seniority." Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress, Washington, D.C., U.S Government Printing Office, 1989, in , Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L229P4XZ2YZ1YNV.

Harvard: Dole, RJ 1989, 'Prospective Chairmen With Equal Seniority' in Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress, U.S Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.. cited in , . Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L229P4XZ2YZ1YNV.